Harm Reduction Victoria

The Project

overdose workshop
The Drug Overdose Prevention Education (DOPE) has been funded by the Department of Health to deliver peer based overdose education to illicit drug users since 1999. Originally called the VIVAIDS Heroin Overdose Prevention Project (HOPP), the project changed its name to the Drug Overdose Prevention Project (DOPE) in 2002 to include people who use amphetamine type substances (ATS) as well as opiate users and poly drug users. In this way, DOPE has always tried to be responsive to changing trends in drug use reported by local drug users. This aspect of the project has been fundamental to its success and ensures that the information provided remains up to date and relevant at the time of delivery.

The primary aim of DOPE is to reduce the incidence of both fatal and non-fatal overdose among current heroin, ATS and poly drug users in Victoria. We do this by designing and delivering peer education workshops to groups of up to ten current users at a time.

Overdose, as most users know, is part of drug using culture and many users express an air of acceptance about overdose. Our overdose education encourages drug users to take steps to reduce the risk of overdose and to learn to respond appropriately if/when an overdose occurs.

Harm Reduction Victoria believes that drug users are the most appropriate people to train in overdose response since they are the most likely people to be present at the time of overdose. Drug users can be taught to provide Basic Life Support (BLS) until an ambulance arrives.

Research indicates that if those present intervene and administer BLS, the outcomes for the overdose victim are significantly improved.

As a result we incorporate hands-on resuscitation training in all ‘Overdose Prevention, Recognition and Overdose Response’ workshops.

Developed by experienced peer education staff at Harm Reduction Victoria and road tested by numerous groups of people who use drugs over many years, HRV’s evidence-based overdose workshop is designed to inform people who use drugs about all aspects of overdose, from the nuts and bolts of reducing the risk of overdose, to recognising the warning signs of overdose, through to hands on overdose response training.
Available in a range of formats – from a full 3 hour program to shorter versions – the comprehensive workshop is equally relevant for opioid as well as amphetamine users. Feedback from participants is consistently positive and helps the workshop program to grow and evolve.



doll fin


The DOPE project educates approximately 250 current drug users every year by means of 25 peer education workshops, which accommodate up to 10 participants per workshop, which are held at a range of services attended by people who inject drugs.

Although we try to target 250 new participants each year, there is also value in people coming back for a ‘refresher’ workshop.  Our evaluation suggests that some people take longer to absorb the information and to feel confident enough to act on it.

Each workshop goes for approx.. 3 hours with short breaks and a meal provided. Some people say that the workshop is too long and they cringe at the thought of having to participate for “that long”. Yet more often than not, as I start to wrap things up, I hear those same people saying “is that it?” or “gee that went quick!”  So, it is true that time really does fly when you are having fun.

I am a firm believer in ‘information overload’ and I try hard not to cram everything into one workshop which is why the workshops are flexible. Once everyone has arrived at a workshop, we usually start with a quick discussion around what drugs the participants are using and what they already know about overdose. That way I can tailor the workshop to suit those present and  make sure that the information is interesting and relevant.

Below is a brief outline of what the workshops involve.


Overdose workshop program (heroin & other opioids):
  • Welcome and Introductions (to each other)
  • Housekeeping and ground rules


Part 1: Overdose Prevention (Heroin)
  • Recent overdose research – what do we know?
  • The concept of risk & taking risks
  • Risk factors for overdose (we actually talk about risk factors all through the workshop)
  • Ways to reduce the risks
  • Drug classes and effects, including drug interactions, tolerance and drug half- life.


Part 2: Overdose Recognition & Response (Heroin)
  • Signs and symptoms of overdose
  • Common overdose myths
  • What to do in the event of an overdose, including; Calling an ambulance, Police OD policy & the recovery position.
  • Hands on resuscitation training (mouth to mouth with the resuscitation dummies)


Part 1: Overdose Prevention (Amphetamines & other ATS)
  • Managing your use
  • Looking after your mates
  • Adverse drug effects: Physical
  • Adverse drug effects: Physiological
  • Risk factors associated with amphetamine use.


Part 2: Overdose Recognition & Response (Amphetamines)
  • Signs and symptoms of overdose
  • What to do in the event of an overdose/ heart attack including; calling an ambulance &  the recovery position.
  • Hands on resuscitation training using resuscitation dummies.


Due to a range of reasons including but not limited to literacy levels and/or mental health issues, the group workshop format doesn’t always work or isn’t the most effective approach and a one-on-one brief intervention may be more appropriate. Flexibility is the key and I am open to any new ideas that will help us get overdose messages out to the people who need them most, i.e. people who inject drugs.




The DOPE project also provides overdose prevention training for staff who work with current drug users. Our staff training sessions are unique!  As the Drug User Organisation for Victoria, Harm Reduction Victoria’s training is unique in that the information is presented from a drug user perspective. Feedback from staff training sessions is overwhelmingly positive. When asked what was most useful about the session, the most common responses include:

‘the drug user perspective’

‘the honesty of the facilitator’

‘practical ways to deal with clients’

We certainly don’t claim to “know it all” but we do claim to provide insights that no one else can.

Whenever I am asked to deliver a staff training session, I like to get an idea of what it is that staff want to know including gaps in knowledge and/or areas of confusion. That way I can tailor the session to maximum effect and make the best use of staff time, which is invariably limited. Time restrictions also partly explain why I don’t include overdose response in staff training coupled with the fact that most staff already have some level of first aid training.

If you or your organisation is interested in HRV delivering staff training about overdose please give us a call and we will be happy to discuss the best option for you. We can customise the training to meet your specific staff needs, and there is no cost to your organisation. HRV is a state wide organisation so just because you are outside metro Melbourne doesn’t mean you have to miss out.

I am always looking for new agencies to partner with and new ways to access a broader range of drug users particularly those at most risk of overdose e.g. people recently released from prison or detox, homeless clients, ATSI clients, etc. Sometimes staff get to know us via a staff training session and then put us in touch with their clients. From there I will deliver a peer education workshop and word of mouth is usually all it takes to recruit for a second client workshop.

If the HRV Drug Overdose Peer Education Project sound like something for you, please don’t hesitate to give me a call at the HRV office on 03 9329 1500.

I look forward to working with you.