Central Alberta AIDS Network Society is among seven agencies across Alberta that will soon be able to provide the medication Naloxone to drug users to reverse opiate overdoses.
Executive director Jennifer Vanderschaeghe said the Overdose Prevention Program with take-home Naloxone kits is a one-year, $300,000 pilot project funded by Alberta Health in response to the increase in fentanyl overdoses.
“It’s pure health care prevention. It saves lives. It saves money,” Vanderschaeghe said on Thursday, which coincidently was International Harm Reduction Day.
She said fentanyl, a drug 100 times more potent than morphine, is becoming a bigger issue in Red Deer. In April, she was aware of six overdoses including one death.
Overdose deaths happen more often in Alberta and elsewhere than most people realize, she said.
“There are more overdose deaths every year than there are car accident deaths.”
She said Naloxone kits are a safe way to save lives because Naloxone does no harm.
“If you give Naloxone to someone who is not overdosing on an opiate, nothing bad will happen. There is no way to get high off these drugs.”
An opiate overdose causes breathing to slow down and eventually stop. Naloxone reverses the effects of the opiate to keep people breathing until paramedics arrive.
“(Naloxone) actually gets in the way of the opiate and the receptors in your brain and it stops your body from processing the opiate for between 30 to 60 minutes.”
Naloxone is injected intramuscularly and a kit contains two doses of the medication and two needles (because sometimes people require two injections), latex gloves, a rescue breathing mask and two swabs. The injection can be given through clothes into a thigh or upper arm if necessary.
Vanderschaeghe said the program will fund 3,250 kits and agencies will likely have them available in June.
CAANS staff received Naloxone training this week. Nurses on staff will train clients to use the kits.
She said the Streetworks program in Edmonton has made Naloxone available to clients for 10 years and was the first in Canada to do so.