Starting this week some homeless shelters and drop-in sites across Vancouver, Surrey, New Westminster and the North Shore will be armed with Naloxone, an injection that can revive a drug user if they've overdosed on fentanyl or other opioids.

As part of a pilot project, Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health are distributing the kits to 25 facilities run by Lookout Society.

Unlike take-home kits, which some shelters already carry, staff have been shown how to administer the overdose-reversing drug.

"We're training shelter staff to recognize an opiate overdose and administer naloxone using a kit we've prepared specifically for this purpose," said Mark Lysyshyn, a medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health.

Over the last two weeks 150 staff have been trained to use the kits, which each have 10 doses of naloxone.

'It brings people back to life' - Jodi Sturge, deputy executive director of Lookout Society

"When the staff see an individual overdose, this is a way that staff can respond quickly before the first responders arrive, said Jodi Sturge, deputy executive director of Lookout Society.

"When they see these individuals, they appear to be dead. It can be quite scary at first." 

Three lives saved

Staff at one of the shelters already saved three lives in one day this week using the new kit, according to Sturge.

"The staff just goes up to them, does the steps to ensure that this injection is the best intervention at the time ... and it brings people back to life," said Sturge.

Recently Surrey and Vancouver firefighters were also given naloxone to use as part of their emergency kits.

David Carreiro is living in a homeless shelter and says he keeps seeing his friends die of overdoses.

He's relieved more naloxone will be available.

David Carreiro

David Carreiro says having naloxone kits at shelters is a positive move.

"It's a great idea. There's a lot of guys and ladies overdosing. There's a lot of fentanyl in the dope," said Carreiro.

Lookout Society has recorded 11 overdoses this month at its shelters, a surge from past years.

The agency has also seen a clear spike in suspected fentanyl overdoses.

The potent drug, which is hundreds of times stronger than heroin, is sometimes sold as fake OxyContin pills, or mixed with other drugs.

In six months the health authority will assess the pilot project and consider making the kits available at more facilities, said Lysyshyn.