After a recent death in Winnipeg, and a rise in fatal fentanyl overdoses across the country in recent years, Health Canada says it is putting a rush on its review of Naloxone, a drug known to bring overdose victims back from the brink of death.

One man died and another was hospitalized during a suspected overdose from cocaine contaminated with fentanyl in Winnipeg last weekend. Toxicology results are expected soon that should provide more answers, police said.

Some health-care professionals say increasing access to Naloxone would save more lives. When injected in the event of an emergency, it can reverse the effects of an otherwise fatal opioid (heroine, fentanyl) overdose.


Naloxone kits are available without a prescription at three Sydney-area pharmacies. (Carolyn Thompson/Associated Press)

That, in combination with a recent study that charted a rise in fentanyl-related deaths in Canada, has prompted Health Canada to review the prescription-based nature of the drug.

Some provinces and cities already have Naloxone programs in place. And now a similar program could soon make the drug more accessible in Winnipeg. 

Shelley Marshall says prescriptions for it are available but expensive.

"We actually started on this over a year ago, a lot of movement has happened recently," said Marshall.

Marshall is a clinical nurse who works with Street Connections, a team that hits Winnipeg streets to hand out medical care supplies to help to hundreds of drug users every week.

They're hoping to roll out a distribution program that would offer training on how to use Naloxone, and provide take-home kits at no cost to users.

"When people overdose, statistically, health-care providers aren't there ... but people who use opiates are there and they are very good at recognizing overdose," said Marshall.

While such a program wouldn't eliminate overdoses all together, Marshall believes making the prescription drug more available is a step in the right direction.

"It has very little street value outside of saving lives," she said, adding she hopes to the program will be in place by this fall.

"There is a movement across Canada to reschedule this drug as something that's not prescription only.... In Portugal it's an over-the-counter drug. There are intranasal formulations that you don't need to inject, so those are great things to see Canada start to approve."