Alberta emergency medical technicians will now be allowed to administer naloxone, an antidote to the deadly street drug fentanyl, under new rules announced Friday by Health Minister Sarah Hoffman.
Hoffman said fentanyl overdoses are more of an issue in Alberta than other parts of the country so it's important to get the antidote into as many hands as possible.
"I think it'll make a difference," Hoffman said Friday. "It's difficult to measure the scope, but even if it's one more life, it's the right thing to do."
Hoffman earlier this week described fentanyl as Alberta's No. 1 public health issue. The province has purchased an additional 2,000 naloxone kits and had been lobbying the federal government to make them more easily accessible to first responders.
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Under the rule changes, registered nurses will now be allowed to prescribe naloxone, in addition to administering and distributing the drug as they are currently allowed to do.
Naxolone could previously be administered only by physicians, paramedics and fentanyl users themselves.
"We're using education, we're using justice to try to limit the supply on the streets," said Hoffman. "But we're also expanding opportunities for detox and rehabilitation."
Hoffman said the changes won't make fentanyl safe to use. "But it certainly gives another opportunity at the last minute to try to save a life," she added.
Hoffman made the changes under ministerial orders, which remain in effect until July 1. The orders can be renewed if necessary.
In the meantime, the province is continuing to discuss ways to make naloxone available without a prescription.
The changes were welcomed by Petra Schultz, whose 25-year-old son Danny died after overdosing on fentanyl in April 2014.
Schultz said the new rules will go a long way to help people in the event of an overdose.
"The ambulances together with the fire department, who should also carry naloxone I feel, are usually the first ones on site and they being able to administer that, will be able to save a lot of lives," she said.
Schultz is also pleased that Hoffman recognizes that the growing number of fentanyl deaths is a health crisis.
While Schultz is applauding the province's actions, she says action is needed from the federal government as well. What's needed is 911 amnesty, she said.
"Right now, if two people are in the same room, one does drugs, and they have to call 911, the other person, if they were also using something, they could be charged with possession or even trafficking," Schultz said. "They don't need jail, they need help."
From Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, 213 Albertans died after overdosing fentanyl.