KITS to prevent drug deaths are being handed out quicker in the Borders than any other area of Scotland.

And the figures are being welcomed by local health chiefs.

Statistics released today have shown that NHS Borders are handing out more 'take home' Naloxone kits than any other health board - 144 throughout last year.

Naloxone is a tablet that can be taken by a heroin addict if they overdose - reversing the symptoms for around 20 minutes to allow time to call for emergency medical help.

The kits are provided to individuals after full training in its use. Dr Sheena MacDonald, Medical Director for NHS Borders, said: "This report demonstrates our commitment to support people towards recovery and reduce the number of drug-related deaths in the Borders through critical interventions such as Naloxone kits.

"The idea behind this is that if a person is at high risk of overdose, they or a carer or friend will be able to administer the treatment or if they are present when someone else overdoses they can use it themselves to try and save a life. It can temporarily reverse the effects of opiate overdose until the emergency services arrive." Fears have been voiced that the kits could lead to an increase in heroin use - but the claims have been refuted by health experts.

Dr MacDonald added: "These kits are given to people at high risk of overdosing. This is a vulnerable group of people and evidence suggests that Naloxone will only impact on drug death figures significantly if a "necessary proportion" of opiate drug users have access to Naloxone. "NHS Borders is achieving this. Naloxone offers the chance to save a life and sends a clear message to individuals that they matter and that they can turn their life around. It is not the solution to drug-related deaths but it is an important intervention within a range of available treatment and support which can help reduce harm, encourage engagement with drug services and support people towards recovery.

"Borders Addictions Service is one of the highest performing in Scotland and will continue to offer support to drug users to reduce the number of drug related deaths in the Scottish Borders." The roll out of the National Naloxone programme followed successful local pilots in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Highlands and recommendations from the National Forum on Drug Related Deaths.

But local MSP John Lamont isn't convinced the figures are good news.

He said: "Many people will be shocked at the sheer number of Naloxone kits that are being handed out in the Borders. For every 1,000 problem drug users in the Borders we are handing out 248 of these kits which is significantly higher than every other region of Scotland.

"To be handing out nearly five times as many kits as the national average is concerning and there is clearly a need for a re-think about how many of these kits we are distributing. While Naloxone can be a huge help for those who have overdosed, I have long believed that the best approach is abstinence based.

"This drug will encourage heroin users to test their limits as they know that there will be a fall back should they overdose. This is not helping the situation and will encourage increased drug use. Drugs are a blight in our communities in the Borders, and while the recent spate of drug related arrests will help, we need to do more to discourage use.

"The NHS spends millions treating drug users, and that's not including the cost to our communities who are victims of drug related crime or the families ripped apart by addicts. We should be taking a hard line on heroin use, not encouraging its use."