B.C. supports federal push to make overdose drug naloxone available without prescription

Ottawa wants to make sure a drug that could prevent drug overdose deaths is closer at hand for Canadians.

'Virtually all overdoses can be prevented with naloxone, if it's readily available'

Naloxone is used by injection primarily in hospitals as an opiate overdose antidote, but the federal government wants to make the medication more available. (Mel Evans/The Associated Press)

In the wake of a rash of overdose deaths in cities across the country  many suspected to be caused by the opioid fentanyl  the federal government wants to make sure medication that could have prevented those deaths is closer at hand for Canadians.

Naloxone has been described as a wonder drug, one that can reverse the effects of overdoses from opiates and opioids and their synthetic counterparts including heroin and fentanyl.

Used predominantly in hospitals via injection, the medication is currently available for public purchase only through prescriptions. Health Canada is proposing to make it available to drug users and their families over the counter

The B.C. government has expressed support for the initiative.

"We view this as a very positive move, and in fact have been asking Health Canada to expedite their review for some time," said B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake in a statement.

"By removing the prescription-only status of naloxone, it removes a significant barrier to access. It will mean more people are able to access this life-saving treatment." 

Dan Reist with the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C. believes Naloxone's benefits are obvious.

"If I go through a red light, somebody else applying the brakes so as not to collide into me is mitigating damage. I made a mistake that could have been very tragic and yet they stopped the mistake," says Reist. "That's how we should look at Naloxone."

'Wonder drug' could curb fentanyl deaths

In December 2015 there were eight deaths in Victoria in the span of a week believed to be caused by overdoses. With naloxone, some of those deaths might have been preventable.

"Virtually all [opiate] overdoses can be prevented with naloxone, if it's readily available," says Reist.

Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more toxic than morphine, say police. Overdoses are preventable with Naloxone on hand. (Canadian Press)

In April of last year, 21-year-old Jennifer Woodside's son Dylan took an oxycontin pill laced with fentanyl and died. She's since called for wider access to naloxone.

"It would have saved his life, he had classic symptoms of overdosing," she told the CBC's Gloria Mackarenko in a recent interview.

Health Canada is expected to consult on the change until the middle of March.

With files from Richard Zussman


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