There’s a concerted effort by Alberta Health Services (AHS) to make the opioid blocking drug Naloxone more accessible.
Commonly used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose from drugs such as Fentanyl or Carfentanyl, AHS has added hospitals to the list of places a person can get a kit, no questions asked.
Dr. Ifeoma Achebe, medical officer of health for the central zone, said pharmacies and hospitals have always had the blockers, however, an increase in opioid-related deaths signalled a need to increase access.
“We’re still seeing quite a few deaths from opioids,” said Achebe, adding that the more kits passed out the greater the potential to save a life.
“I can tell you we’re seeing an increase from the number of deaths in 2016.”
Newly released fourth quarter data from the province shows that 687 people died from an apparent accidental opioid overdose in 2017. Adding to the overall burden, Alberta hospitals also saw an increase in emergency visits.
In the third quarter of 2017, there were 2,871 emergency and urgent care visits related to the misuse of opioids. For the same time in 2016 the number of visits were 2,357.
AHS breaks down the number of deaths to zones, explained Achebe, with Calgary and Edmonton seeing the largest number deaths. Central Zone, which includes Red Deer and Ponoka still sees its fair share.
“The opioid crisis is not sparing any particular part of the province,” said Achebe.
She says researchers take a purely scientific approach to the reason for increasing access to Naloxone kits. “What we are doing is evidence-based.”
The goal, said Achebe, is to reduce the number of deaths related to opioid poisoning.
“There’s more of an increase now in the need for the kits,” she said.
AHS provides information within its report of the number of deaths that are Fentanyl-related and those that are related to non-Fentanyl opioids.
What it shows is that the Calgary and Edmonton zones are the highest when related to accidental fentanyl deaths.
For 2016 to 2017 Calgary saw 415 deaths while Edmonton saw 283. The Central Zone, which includes Red Deer, saw 87. In total there were 920 fentanyl poisoning deaths in Alberta over the two years.
Getting a Naloxone kit
Naloxone kits have three bottles of Naloxone, three wrapped needles, along with alcohol swabs, a set of rubber gloves, plus a covered mask in the event a person has to conduct mouth to mouth resuscitation.
Getting a kit is relatively easy with hospital staff providing a brief training on how to use the needles and no identification is required when asking for the opioid blocker.