Naloxone kits to reverse opiod overdoses will be available across Central Alberta in January.
Since July, Central Alberta AIDS Network, which is changing its name to Turning Point, has so far only been able to distribute kits in Red Deer in response to the rise in fentanyl overdoses. In the first nine months of 2015, fentanyl-related deaths in Alberta stood at 213 and included 29 in Central Alberta.
Jennifer Vanderschaeghe, Turning Point executive director, said an increase in funding from the province will double the amount of time staff can dedicate to training people to use naloxone and distribute kits. Currently staff can only spent the equivalent of one day per week on the naloxone program.
“This means we’ll have a day in Red Deer and a day in the rural area from a staffing perspective,” said Vanderschaeghe on Monday.
Funding for travel will also be available for staff, she said.
Turning Point is one of eight agencies across Alberta distributing free naloxone kits as part of a one-year pilot program funded by Alberta Health.
As of early December, agencies had given out 707 kits, and 51 lives have been saved. As of Friday, 123 kits had been given out in Red Deer, with 30 lives saved.
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.
Last week, the province announced it would boost naloxone availability by allowing registered nurses to prescribe, administer and distribute it. Nurses could not prescribe the drug before. Paramedics, who could only administer naloxone, will be allowed to distribute it. Emergency medical technicians and emergency medical responders will also be able to administer and distribute naloxone.
Health Canada is reported to be looking at making naloxone available at pharmacies without a prescription by mid-2016.
Vanderschaeghe said having naloxone available over the counter will help occasional or recreational users, but it won’t assist Turning Point clients.
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.
She said the use of fentanyl to increase the potency of street drugs is not something that is going to stop.
“Now that we have so many people overdosing, to some degree those overdoses market fentanyl as being good,” she said.
Drew Barnes, Wildrose health critic, said the NDP has to follow through with its plans to expand the naloxone program by including more health care workers.
The province should also redirect more money towards detox and addiction services, and restore funding to the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT).
“Let’s combat the illegal fentanyl and let’s make sure the education around the prescribed fentanyl is as wide as possible. I understand in Alberta we prescribe 30 per cent more opiates than other provinces and the amount of fentanyl prescriptions has doubled in the last six years,” Barnes said.
Wildrose have proposed a patch for patch system for fentanyl, similar to legislation in Ontario, where those with a prescription must turn in old fentanyl patches to get new patches to curb abuse.