Illicit drug overdose deaths are still a growing concern across British Columbia.
The total number of overdose deaths for June 2016 was 56, which is an increase from 43 in May 2016. In total, the B.C. Coroners Service says about 60 per cent of the 371 illicit drug overdose deaths across the province this year are directly linked to fentanyl. That number is up from 31 per cent in 2015. In the North, there have been 25 drug overdoses so far this year with 14 of them showing fentanyl detected in toxicology tests. As a result, pharmacists across the province have adopted new standards for the medication reversing the effects of an opiod overdose.
Pharmacist at 3rd Avenue Drugs, Patrick Dinelle, says naloxone is now available to anyone at B.C. pharmacies without a prescription. This now includes a recently approved naloxone nasal spray kit soon to be introduced by the federal government in B.C. “If someone’s having an overdose moment, Naloxone can actually get in and reverse the effects of the opioid, it connects to what opioid would connect to in the body, therefore reversing the opioid.”
Take-home naloxone programs were first introduced in B.C. with programs now available in Prince George. “We have given it out to certain services like the B.C. Needle Exchange and the RCMP to use for emergency situations as well,” Dinelle said.
The medication is easily administered using a syringe to the upper arm. At a cost of 20 dollars, it could be the difference between life and death during an overdose. “It can be a scary situation, but there’s been studies showing that even a lay person with a minor education and training you can get at the pharmacy, would be able to use it to help save someone they know that might be at risk for opioid overdose,” Dinelle said. “It’s very important and definitely a necessary part of BC healthcare.”
A take-home naloxone program is in the works for the emergency department at the University Hospital of Northern B.C. In addition, a mandatory drug surveillance system in the Northern Health emergency departments is now collecting additional information around overdoses.
Northwest Medical Health Officer with Northern Health, Dr. Raina Fumerton says data has been collected over the past three weeks. “It will help us understand, what target populations are experiencing overdose, how are they experiencing it, are they experiencing it alone or are they using it with others,” Fumerton said. “We want to know what drugs they are using so we can best target our health responses and increase our harm reduction services.”