It’s been a little over a year since the opioid overdose prevention drug Naloxone was released into the Red Deer community, with a report of 621 kits having been given out through Turning Point.
Jennifer Vanderschaeghe, executive director of Turning Point, said there has been 144 reported overdose reversals since July 7th, 2015 when the kits were first distributed in Red Deer.
She said she and her team have learned a lot since the initial roll out, including having members of the Turning Point team having to actively use the product to reverse overdoses on site.
“There have been four instances where Turning Point staff has had to administer Naloxone. Three of those instances were people were bringing us someone who was overdosing. Basically, we were doing overdose first aid on the street or within the building and we knew that this was a possibility,” Vanderschaeghe said. “We’re now at a place where we actually have to have a procedure on how we manage if someone is actively overdosing in the building. People are bringing us people who are overdosing and that is not optimal.”
She added that of course there are trained members on the team available to use the Naloxone kits, but that sometimes the nurses aren’t there and that it can be a difficult situation to be placed in.
“We would not have gone out of our way to get that experience, but now we do have it and it’s valuable. As a staff, we now have practical experience in actively dealing with an overdose, and how to sort of navigate that. Both of our nurses have had to respond to overdoses on our site in a street-level environment,” she added.
Turning Point staff has been collecting data when a person comes in saying, “I used Naloxone to reverse an overdose.”
“The data we’ve been collecting is very interesting. Whenever someone comes to us and says, ‘I reversed an overdose’ there is paperwork we fill out. It asks some very simple, specific questions. We ask things like, ‘Did you use the kit on yourself or another person. What do you think they were taking?’
“Another question we ask is ‘Did you call 911?’ And we found that 72 per cent of people we’ve spoken with are not calling 911 when there is an overdose.”
She explained people can be uncomfortable dialing 911 because they may have been arrested in a previous 911 call, they may not want to admit to using drugs and that she’s also heard from people that sometimes police don’t even arrive.
“Seventy-two per cent is really high. We also asked, ‘If you did call 911, did the police come?’ And we found that the police aren’t coming. We have had people in Red Deer who called 911 because of an overdose and got arrested, so they don’t call back.”
Since January, the Turning Point team has been tasked with the delivery and public awareness of Naloxone into rural communities. So far, 16 rural communities have been accessed. However, Vanderschaeghe said for some reason those rural community partners do not seem to be handing out many kits.
“The question isn’t can they give out kits but have they? Because a lot of the pharmacies who are able to give out the kits aren’t. There haven’t been many rural communities that are actually distributing the kits and that’s scary to us because we know there is a need to do so.”
A local man who wished to remain anonymous shared his experience with the Naloxone kits.
“I can honestly say that of people I know or have talked to, this has saved dozens of lives. There are a lot of people who are still here because of these kits, including me and my wife,” he said.
“I’ve only used the kits in the last year since they came out and the very first night I ever came into contact with one I ended up saving someone’s life. I won’t go anywhere without it now. I’ve used these kits three times now and I’m just glad it seems to be helping.”