News / Edmonton

Expand Take-Home Naloxone program to save lives: Commission

The commission recommends expanding the program to isolated and underserved communities

Amy Graves lost her brother to an opioid overdose in 2011, and is encouraged the province is supporting safe consumption sites.

Kevin Tuong / Edmonton Freelance

Amy Graves lost her brother to an opioid overdose in 2011, and is encouraged the province is supporting safe consumption sites.

Alberta is helping to “lead the way” with its Take-Home Naloxone program, with more than 2,300 opioid overdoses reversed as of Sept. 30, according to provincial numbers.

The program was started by Alberta Health Services, and hands out free naloxone kits to anyone who wants one. After legislative changes in early 2017, people didn't even need a prescription.

That number includes the overdoses reported to distribution sites when people replace their kits, and does not include overdose reversals performed by emergency responders.

In total, 30,972 kits have been handed out. Naloxone, which is typically injected, can reverse an overdose from fentanyl and other related opiates such as carfentanil, of which even a dose as small as a grain of salt can be fatal.

“We have one of the largest provincial Take-Home Naloxone programs in the country … additionally, implementing supervised consumption services across the province is another way in which I think the province has really taken a leadership role,” said Elaine Hyshka, co-chair of the Minister’s Opioid Emergency Response Commission, at an opioids update on Wednesday.

As of mid-August, 315 Albertans have died of fentanyl overdoses this year, compared to 368 for all of 2016.

The total number of all opioid-related deaths in the province last year was 586.

Despite the success of the Take-Home Naloxone program, the death rate is still “unacceptably high”, Hyshka said.

“I think that just speaks to the extreme toxicity of the illicit drug market in Alberta. And it’s getting increasingly toxic,” she said.

The province has accepted 12 recommendations from the commission, including to expand and enhance the Take-Home Naloxone program.

Other recommendations are to make funding available to Indigenous communities and organizations for prevention and treatment initiatives, and to boost the role Primary Care Networks play in urgent treatment, harm prevention and education.

The province has been working with the service industry and nightclub scene and holding training events to make sure these establishments are prepared in the case of an overdose.

Trevor Young, a manager at The Needle Vinyl Tavern, said his establishment moved towards bringing naloxone kits in August and all of their security staff is trained in administering the kits.

On Nov. 21, they are joining with Fruit Loop, an Edmonton LGBTQ organization, to hold a naloxone training session that is open to the public. It starts at 6:30 p.m.

“We like to promote a safe atmosphere for everyone that comes in here, artists and audiences alike,” Young said. “And a part of that is being prepared for the worst.”

The province has committed $3.8 million for the set up and renovation costs for six approved safe consumption sites in Alberta, including four in Edmonton. They have also committed to providing operational funding for the six locations.

Amy Graves, an advocate who lost her brother to a prescription opioid overdose in 2011, said a lot has changed since then, citing the support of safe consumption sites, the Good Samaritan law that prevents people from legal persecution if they call 911 to report someone overdosing, as well as expanding naloxone programs.

“I wish that was available when I lost my brother,” Graves said. “The more naloxone, the better.”

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