Free take-home naloxone kits will be available without a prescription at 600 pharmacies across Alberta starting Friday.
Previously, naloxone kits used to reverse fentanyl and other opioid overdoses, required a prescription.
Several pharmacies in Red Deer and across Central Alberta have already been carrying the take-home kits. Some walk-in clinics have also made naloxone available.
Last summer, Turning Point, formerly known as Central Alberta AIDS Network, was one of only eight agencies in Alberta to prescribe naloxone, train people to use the free, take-home kits and distribute kits when the province first made them available in response to the rise in fentanyl overdoses.
Fentanyl is about 100 times stronger than morphine, heroin, or oxycodone. A very small amount can be deadly and fentanyl has been showing up unexpectedly in other street drugs.
Last year Alberta had 274 fentanyl deaths, up from 272 previously reported for 2015 by the office of the chief medical examiner. In Red Deer there were 15 deaths.
In the first three months of 2016, there were 69 deaths across the province, compared to 77 between January to March in 2015. Red Deer saw seven deaths in first three months of 2016.
Jennifer Vanderschaeghe, Turning Point executive director, said her staff just heard about a drug overdose death that occurred recently in rural Central Alberta.
“It was somebody who was really closeted about their drug use. Although they had a naloxone kit, their risk was quite high because there was really nobody in their world that they trusted to tell that they used drugs. We knew that person would continue to use drugs by themselves,” Vanderschaeghe said.
She said the death is a reminder that people should not use drugs alone.
As of Wednesday, Turning Point has given out 394 naloxone kits since July 7, 2015 and clients have reported 103 saves or reversals.
She said another overdose save they just heard about Wednesday required four doses of naloxone and CPR.
Making naloxone available without a prescription at pharmacies has great value because some pharmacies are open 24 hours a day. But she urged people to call their pharmacy first to make sure they have kits, she said.
“Sometimes the pharmacies only have one or two in stock so you want to check before you go,” Vanderschaeghe said.
Each kit contains two units of naloxone, two syringes, two alcohol swabs, two latex gloves, a one-way breathing mask and instructions.
Naloxone is injected intramuscularly and keeps people breathing until paramedics arrive. It’s possible for a person to lapse into an overdose again once naloxone wears off so medical attention is required.
“Too many lives have been cut short by fentanyl and too many families have lost loved ones,” said Associate Minister of Health Brandy Payne who announced the new plan for pharmacies on Wednesday in Edmonton.
Kits are available to those at risk of overdosing and concerned friends and family.
“Our hope is that removing the prescription requirement will encourage more people to access these potentially life-saving kits.”
Payne said more than 2,000 naloxone kits have been given out since last year.
Vanderschaeghe said 1,772 of those 2,000 kits were given out by the eight original agencies to distribute naloxone.
Alberta Health is also providing $3 million to Alberta Health Services for a three-year project to expand access to opioid dependency treatment in several communities.
“By the end of the first year, an additional 240 Albertans are expected to be receiving opioid replacement treatment, an increase of 20 per cent from the number currently being treated at AHS clinics,” Payne said.