If a drug user overdoses on an opioid such as fentanyl or heroine in a town where there is no urgent care facility – do they stand a chance of surviving?
A number of years ago, the answer to that question may have been no. However, following a recent provincial initiative to make the opioid overdose prevention drug, known as Naloxone, available at pharmacies in rural locations opioid users facing an overdose may now have a larger time window to gain access to emergency services.
The take home Naloxone kits, which can be obtained at both Shopper’s Drug Marts in Sylvan Lake, are available with a prescription from a pharmacist or doctor and act on the body’s central nervous system by stopping the receptors in your brain from being able to absorb anymore opioids. Opioids can include drugs such Fentanyl, heroine or Oxycotin.
The provincial government in partnership with Alberta Health Services (AHS) saw the need to address rising rates in Fentanyl deaths following staggering statistics released by AHS. 2016 saw fentanyl related overdoses in Alberta jump to 104 in 2014 to 272 in 2015. 35 of the reported incidents were in the AHS Central Zone, which Sylvan Lake is located in.
The take home Naloxone kits were first made available in urban centres and have proved to be successful in areas such as Red Deer.
Executive Director of the Central Alberta AIDS Network Society (CAANS), Jennifer Vanderschaege stated they have handed out 247 Naloxone kits since the programs start date in July of 2015 with multiple people have reported successful overdose prevention back to the organization. To date they have counted 64 lives saved by Naloxone.
The free kits have since been made available in rural locations through pharmacies and include two doses of the overdose prevention drug,syringes and various other items that are needed when administering.
Todd Prochnau, pharmacist and owner of both Shopper’s Drug Marts in Sylvan Lake where the kits are available, said they have not yet handed any out in Sylvan Lake, but believe they are a valuable tool considering the urgent care situation.
“If someone comes upon some one who overdoses and they are five minutes from the hospital then they have a much better chance of surviving than if they are 30 minutes or an hour,” explained Prochnau. “That’s where the Naloxone kit can bridge that gap – if someone is an hour from the hospital, that Naloxone kit can buy them the time and that’s why they are so important in rural Alberta.”
Pharmacies have to opt into the take home Naloxone project, with Prochnau having to take a course as the owner of a pharmacy, in order to be an authorized carrier with all of the pharmacists employed at Shopper’s in Sylvan Lake also having been required to take a course in order to prescribe Naloxone.
“For me it was an easy decision,” said Prochnau on the decision to carry the kits. “The take home Naloxone kits are really all about harm reduction – ultimately, we know people are using fentanyl and other opioids and putting themselves at risk for overdose so having these tools available in pharmacies could potentially be life saving if they use it and they have it when they find themselves in that type of situation.”
Both Vanderschaege and Prochnau emphasized the most important factor with Naloxone is to never use drugs alone. If some one is overdosing on an opioid they will likely be unconscious, therefore in order for Naloxone to be administered the person they are with must inject them.
If some one is not overdosing and they receive a dose of Naloxone there are no negative side affects and the over dose prevention tool can’t be used to get high.
Currently Naloxone can be prescribed to a person who admits to being a opioid user, versus a concerned loved one, friend or family member having it on hand in case they see their loved one overdosing. Prochnau added he would like to see this factor change as it is often the user’s loved ones who would like to have the overdose prevention tool on hand and be trained to use it.