Just-released inmates will be the first people in Ontario to receive free doses of the recently approved naloxone nasal spray as part of the province's strategy to curb opioid use.
The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care says it is working closely with corrections officials to ensure at-risk inmates are sent home with the drug overdose antidote upon release as part of a massive provincial government effort to curb opioid addiction by modernizing prescription and treatment measures.
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The province is also planning to make naloxone nasal spray available to others in at risk situations.
"[We] are exploring options for providing naloxone nasal spray to first responders and eligible organizations through the Ontario Naloxone Program," said ministry spokesman David Jensen.
Eligible organizations include:
- Public Health Units (PHU) that manage a core Needle Exchange Program (NEP)
- Community-based organizations that have been contracted by their local PHU to manage a core NEP
- Ministry-funded Hepatitis C Teams.
Nasal spray more user-friendly
Naloxone nasal spray was approved in early October by Health Canada as an over-the-counter antidote for overdose.
The alternative, also available without a prescription to self-identifying users, is the same medication but administered by intramuscular injection.
People who work with opioid users have long advocated for the spray version saying it is simpler for people to use, especially in a crisis situation.
"The one issue we've always had is people's reluctance to use syringes so having nasal naloxone will eliminate that barrier completely," says Violet Umanetz, Outreach Manager with Waterloo-based Sanguen Health Centre.
She salutes the province's move to make the nasal spray available to inmates leaving correctional facilities, as she says they often start using again upon release.
"Their tolerance to any substance they've been using prior to incarceration has dropped significantly and they may not be aware that they are at a higher risk of overdose."
Inmates currently receive upon release informational wallet cards about how to prevent an opioid overdose and how to access free injectable naloxone from the pharmacy.
High price tag
The cost of naloxone nasal spray is significantly higher than its injectable counterpart and it is an issue that has been raised in other parts of Canada where the nasal spray is also available.
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Pharmacist Maercel Laporte with Sarnia's Bluewater Methadone Clinic said there is a $70 difference between the two medications and he suggests it takes more nasal spray to be effective.
"The cost of providing naloxone to newly released inmates is still being determined," Jensen told CBC News.