Officials confirm that fentaynal is a public health crisis in Alberta and they continue to move forward with offering a greater accessibility of naloxone to reverse the effects of a drug overdose.
The illicit opioid drug played a role in 272 deaths in the province last year and according to Alberta Health Services (AHS) officials have said those numbers are not slowing down.
There is now a take-home overdose prevention kit – naloxone, also known as NarCan – that is available across the province. Recently, 29 clinics were approved to dispense of the kits, with additional clinics being announced weekly.
“This is still a public health crisis in Alberta,” said Dr. Nicholas Etches, medical officer of health in AHS Calgary zone.
“We had 272 deaths across the province last year from overdoses involving fentanyl. That number is much higher than we’d like to see. What makes take home naloxone so important is when someone overdoses, the evidence tells us that if a naloxone kit is nearby, we are much more likely to save a life.
“We’re really excited to be able to announce these new clinics that provide walk-in availability to naloxone for Albertans. We’ll be announcing new sites every week and they will be posted online at www.drugsfool.ca.”
AHS recently announced that 29 walk-in clinics across Alberta can now prescribe and supply the naloxone kits. In Red Deer, the kits are available through Turning Point (formerly known as the Central Alberta Aids Network Society or CAANS) and at the Red Deer Primary Care Network office located at 5017 49th St.
The naloxone kits contain instructions on how and when to administer the drug, two vials of naloxone, syringes, alcohol swabs, latex gloves and a one-way rescue breathing mask. The kits contain two doses of naloxone so that depending on the distance from a medical rescue site or the dosage of drug, a person would have a better chance of surviving and reversing the overdose.
“Our goal is to have a naloxone kit on site for users who have the potential to overdose on fentanyl or any opioid classified drug. We also want to know that someone there is trained in overdose response and can call 9-1-1, administer rescue breathing and administer naloxone to reverse the overdose and keep that person alive. That’s the goal behind this intervention,” Etches said.
When each kit is prescribed and released, there is a brief but thorough explanation of when and how to use the kits.
Etches said it is important for people to understand the provinces’ problem with fentanyl is not going away.
“It’s a challenge that we continue to face across a number of sectors, including health and law enforcement. This remains a public health crisis and that’s why it’s so important we are able to offer a greater accessibility of naloxone,” he said.
“I would really urge that if people know someone using fentanyl – or any other opioid like heroin, hydromorphone, morphine, etc. – naloxone is effective against all of those opioids,” Etches added.
“If a person knows someone who is using opioids or if they are using themselves, please go to www.drugsfool.ca where we have resources for individuals struggling with addictions and illicit substances to get help and information on accessing naloxone kits and preventing and responding to overdoses.”
Fentanyl, when prescribed by a doctor and created in a regulated medical lab, is used as a pain killer and is not administered at lethal levels. Etches explained illicit fentanyl is created in unregulated labs and the potency and irregularity of fabrication is what makes the drug so deadly.
“The fentanyl that people are using is not diverted, prescription fentanyl. It’s being produced illicitly, it’s being imported from overseas and it is pressed into pills here by organized crime in a way that has no quality control,” he said.
“Because it is so potent, there is a very small weight of fentanyl in each pill. I don’t want to mislead anyone – the amount in each pill is enough to kill someone, absolutely. However, a person could take one dose or one pill and note that there isn’t a huge amount present in that pill, and the next pill might be enough to kill them.
“It really is a huge game of Russian Roulette. Overdose awareness and prevention, provision of take-home naloxone kits and access to treatment are the mainstays of approach to any opioid – new to the streets or old.”