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B.C. overdose strategy calls for life-saving drug to be more widely available

The number of illicit drug overdose deaths increased 27 per cent from 2014 to 2015 across the province, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

A naloxone nasal injector is demonstrated during a news conference on Feb. 12 in Cincinnati. The drug is used to revive overdose victims.

AP Photo/John Minchillo

A naloxone nasal injector is demonstrated during a news conference on Feb. 12 in Cincinnati. The drug is used to revive overdose victims.

To combat a rising number of illicit drug overdose deaths, a British Columbia partnership is calling for naloxone, a medication that effectively reverses the effects of opioids on the body, to be more widely available across the province.

The recommendation is one of several proposed provincial strategies put forward by the BC Drug Overdose and Alert Partnership, or DOAP, a committee chaired by the BC Centre for Disease Control.

“The DOAP committee has identified the need for accessible naloxone in the community setting,” Dr. Jane Buxton, harm reduction epidemiologist at the BCCDC, said in a statement. “This, along with the other recommendations, will be integral in reducing the harms from an opioid overdose and preventing overdose deaths.”

According to the BCCDC, the annual mortality rate due to illicit drug overdose in B.C. has increased by 50 per cent between 2010 and 2015.

Last year, there were 465 apparently illicit drug overdose deaths, a 27 per cent increase from the 366 deaths in 2014. The majority of overdose deaths were due to opioids like heroin, morphine, oxycodone and fentanyl that may have been used in combination with other drugs and alcohol, according to the BCCDC.

Naloxone, an antidote to an overdose from opioids, is a safe medication that quickly reverses the effects of drugs on the body by restoring breathing within two to five minutes.

The DOAP's proposed strategy also recommends changes in policy to make naloxone a non-prescription medication, which can increase access for the public, family and friends of people at risk of an overdose, and to improve overdose prevention education and training to increase awareness, recognition and response strategies.

Health Minister Terry Lake said the recommendations show that B.C. is on the right track in its efforts to reduce drug overdose deaths. 

Last month, the provincial government announced that emergency medical assistants regulation has been amended to permit licensed fire rescue first responders and community-based paramedics to administer naloxone.

Leslie McBain, a founding member of Mother United and Mandated to Saving the Lives of Drug Users, a coalition of Canadian mothers who have lost children to drug overdose deaths, said making naloxone more accessible “can mean the difference between life and death.”

“As a parent who has lost our only child to an accidental overdose, I agree with these recommendations,” she said in a statement. “I know these actions will help prevent more tragic deaths from occurring.”

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