VANCOUVER — Firefighters in Vancouver and Surrey, B.C., have been moved to the frontlines in the battle against the soaring number of overdoses and drug deaths.
Health Minister Terry Lake said certain specially licensed firefighters will be allowed to administer naloxone, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses, such as those caused by fentanyl.
Lake said Thursday that the emergency medical assistants regulation has been amended to permit licensed fire rescue first responders to administer naloxone, which is also known by the trade name Narcan.
British Columbia’s 525 community-based paramedics are also included under the amendment, although paramedics with more advanced training have been administering the drug for many years.
Surrey fire Chief Len Garis said fire crews are often first on the scene of an overdose emergency, so the new program will allow them to deliver naloxone sooner, possibly saving lives.
“Timing is everything when giving this life-saving medication,” said Linda Lupini, executive vice-president of the Provincial Health Services Authority and B.C. Emergency Health Services.
“The priority was Vancouver and Surrey because they experience probably 85 to 90 per cent of the overdoses in the province,” she said. “They had, in 2015, at least 3,000 overdoses between those two communities.”
Naloxone is an inexpensive drug that’s injected in a large muscle, such as a thigh, and its effects last from about 30 to 60 minutes. Patients would be transferred to a hospital for further treatment.
First responders can also access doctors who oversee use of naloxone through a program run by Emergency Health Services.
Any fire department in the province can join the program after signing an agreement with Emergency Health
In December, Alberta allowed registered nurses to prescribe and administer naloxone and said emergency medical technicians and emergency medical responders could also administer it.
The Take Home Naloxone program in B.C. provides training and kits at various sites including clinics and emergency departments. Saskatchewan and Alberta have similar programs to distribute the antidote.
The federal government announced earlier this month that naloxone is expected to be available without a prescription in Canada by mid-March in response to an alarming spike in deaths linked to fentanyl.