British Columbia’s pilot Take Home Naloxone (THN) program has reversed 125 opioid drug overdoses since the program was launched in 2012.
Naloxone is a safe medication that can reverse the effects of an overdose of an opioid drug by restoring normal breathing within two to five minutes. Without action, an overdose can cause a person’s breathing to slow or stop which can eventually lead to severe brain damage or death.
In 2013, there were 308 deaths in BC attributed to illegal drug overdoses, the majority of which involved opioids. Overdoses can occur with both prescription and illicit opioids. Canada now has the highest consumption of opioid prescription drug use in the world.
“Illicit and prescription drug overdose deaths continue to be a preventable tragedy in British Columbia. The BC Take Home Naloxone program has proven that it saves lives by equipping people with training and a safe medication that can reverse the effects of opioids.” says Dr. Jane Buxton, harm reduction lead with the BC Centre for Disease Control.
Over 1200 kits have been distributed around British Columbia since the launch of the program. The people who have been trained to recognize and respond to an opioid overdose by using these kits include drug users, friends, family members and service providers.
Royal Inland Hospital, located in Kamloops, BC, is the first emergency department in Canada to provide overdose prevention and response training and naloxone kits to at-risk patients. Hospital staff are also helping to reduce the risk of overdose by engaging at-risk patients in important conversations about health that can influence future behaviours. To date, Royal Inland Hospital has distributed 12 kits.
“Emergency departments often see opioid users who are at highest risk for overdose deaths,” says Dr. Trevor Corneil, Medical Health Officer with the Interior Health Authority. “Royal Inland Hospital is at the cutting edge of harm reduction, integrating an effective prevention manoeuvre [THN] with acute care services. “
Kirstin McLaughlin, an ER Nurse at Royal Inland Hospital, was instrumental in launching the program. “I am thrilled to be a part of this initiative and thankful to work alongside such an amazing group of nurses and physicians. The THN kits are enabling us to reach out to some of our most marginalized patients in a way that is compassionate, pragmatic, and ultimately life-saving.”
Hugh Lampkin, a member of the public who has been trained to identify an opioid related overdose, has seen the problem first hand in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. His training and knowledge of the naloxone kits has allowed him to help others, and ultimately, save lives.
“At the end of the day, this and other harm reduction initiatives are all about saving lives,” he says. “I would like to see the Take Home Naloxone program expanded and to get more people trained across the province and the country.”
Naloxone is currently used in harm reduction programs in the U.K, Italy, Germany, Australia and in 17 US states. In Canada, naloxone programs are also available in Alberta and Ontario. To find out more about the program, visit http://towardtheheart.com/naloxone/