With eight near-fatal fentanyl overdoses at Stanton Hospital last week, the Government of the Northwest Territories is looking at solutions to combat an opioid crisis in the North.
That includes making the life-saving drug naloxone readily available to the public in the event of an emergency.
Naloxone temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, buying a patient crucial time to seek medical attention.
The drug has been carried on Yellowknife ambulances over the past few weeks according to city administration. An injectable version of naloxone has also been available at pharmacies across the NWT since the beginning of June.
Accessing the drug does not require a prescription, but for many smaller communities that don’t have a pharmacy in their area, naloxone is harder to get immediate access to.
Now, the GNWT has announced the creation of a pilot program to provide take-home injectable naloxone kits in the Northwest Territories. [pdf]
The kits would be available throughout the NWT at health centres, clinics and hospitals as part of an overdose prevention strategy.
The territory’s Department of Health and Social Services is currently developing the program to help fill a gap in availability and provide as many options to the public as possible.
While there’s no exact timeline, the GNWT expects the kits to be available in the next few weeks, and says the development of the program is a ‘very high priority’.
Access recommended for friends and family
In an information sheet on opioid overdose, the World Health Organization (WHO) says friends and family of people at risk are most likely to witness an opioid overdose.
As a result, WHO recommends making naloxone readily available to those most likely to be on the scene when an overdose happens.
“If a friend or family member has access to naloxone, he or she may be able to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose while waiting for medical care to arrive,” the report read.
“A number of programs around the world have shown that providing naloxone to people likely to witness an opioid overdose … could substantially reduce the deaths resulting from opioid overdose.”
Task force meeting next week
The GNWT has also put together an opioid task force to further examine issues surrounding opioid abuse and overdose risks in the territory.
The group will be led by Dr. André Corriveau, the territory’s chief public health officer. Other senior health officials and the coroner’s office will also be involved.
“It is very important for coroners and medical examiners’ systems to work with public health,” said Cathy Menard, the territory’s chief coroner.
“I think they work side-by-side in a lot of cases, so it’s really important we work together, that we’re not working in silos.”
The task force will have its first meeting sometime next week.