Naloxone kits distributed by Alberta Health Services may not contain naloxone

Alberta Health Services is warning that some of the naloxone kits distributed to Albertans may not actually contain naloxone.

'These kits are in the hands of people who are prepared to save a life and ... the antidote is not there'

The naloxone kits should contain two or three vials of the life-saving drug, but some don't, AHS says. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Alberta Health Services is warning that some of the naloxone kits distributed to Albertans may be missing a key ingredient: the naloxone.

The kits, which were ordered and distributed through a third-party company, may be missing vials of the drug which is used to reverse opioid overdoses.

Dr. Nick Etches, who is with Alberta Health Services, told CBC News the health authority became aware of the problem several days ago and is still working with the distributor to figure out the extent and cause of the issue.

The faulty kits have been distributed through clinics and pharmacies, he said.

"This public service announcement was not sparked by any particular event," he said. "It's simply a precautionary measure to ensure that Albertans have the correct supplies in their kits."

It's not known how many kits were affected or where they were distributed, he said, but stressed there is no risk to the public. 

The kits should contain:

  • Two or three vials of naloxone
  • Two or three syringes
  • Alcohol swabs
  • Gloves
  • A breathing mask
  • A brochure

The province has issued over 40,000 naloxone kits in the last two years. 

'It's very scary'

Four years ago, Petra Schulz lost her 25-year-old son to a fentanyl overdose. After his death, she co-founded Moms Stop the Harm, a national network of mothers working to end the fentanyl crisis.

She was distraught when she heard the health authority's naloxone kits might not contain vials of the life-saving medication. 

"I did not believe this was possible," she told CBC News. "It is very scary. I hope nobody died as a result of this." 

Etches said AHS does not know if there have been any deaths related to the faulty naloxone kits. 

Pharmacists will often verify that naloxone kits are complete before they are distributed to the public, said Dr. Hakique Virani, a public health expert at the University of Alberta.

Health professionals and harm reduction workers then explain what should be in the kit and how the supplies should be used if someone is suffering from a drug overdose. 

When something like this happens, Virani says an immediate response from the government is key to minimize the possibility of a needless death. 

"If these kits are in the hands of people who are prepared to save a life and ... the antidote is not there, holy moly, that's a huge problem," he said. 

Naloxone is not the only way to help an overdose victim, Virani said, but it is the most effective.

An Edmonton Police Service spokesperson told CBC News that the police force does not use the same kits as those distributed to the clinics and pharmacies, and therefore does not expect any problems.

Reminder for Albertans to check their kits

Despite the "unfortunate" mistake, Virani said this is a good reminder for Albertans to check their naloxone kit to ensure that they are properly prepared when an emergency happens.

"Just like a first aid kit, just like a EpiPen or an AED ... it has to be checked often," he said.

If something is missing from the naloxone kit, or if the medication expires, replacements can be found at any distribution centre, Virani added.

AHS said that if any kits are found to have fewer than two vials — of if any individuals need help checking their kit — they should go to a distribution centre. Incomplete kits will be replaced for free.

With files from Ann Sullivan