The head of AIDS Saint John is calling for the widespread distribution of antidote kits to deal with fatal drug overdoses.

Accidental drug overdose deaths in New Brunswick jumped from 31 in 2013 to 47 in 2014, the last year for which statistics are available.

"It's just an indicator that we need to move much faster," said Julie Dingwell, AIDS Saint John's executive director.

"And that we need to … really be thinking about the value of these lives."

The kits which Dingwell wants to get in the hands of police, paramedics and even drug users, contain a dose of the synthetic drug naloxone. The dose, dispensed nasally or by needle injection, has been proven to save lives if administered within minutes of an overdose. 

The antidote kits are being distributed to police forces in the United States. 

Combating overdoses

"It's the same if you had a snakebite and needed anti-venom," said Dingwell.

"This prevents the overdose from killing you. It takes away the effect of the narcotic that has caused you to become unconscious, possibly dying. It just stops that process."

"We had nothing to combat this." -  interim Sheriff Ryan Reardon

A trial underway in Nova Scotia will see the kits issued to addicts themselves.

Direction 180, a methadone clinic in Halifax, lobbied the Nova Scotia Health Department for the $68,400 to run the pilot project.

The funding will pay for 200 kits, which will include two dosages of naloxone, along with a syringe and alcohol swabs. Latex gloves may also be included.

'Confirmed save'

The first police force to do so was the Kennebec County Sheriff's department in Maine. In Feb. 2015, it handed kits to each of its 21 patrol deputies.

Narcan nasal spray

Naloxone can be administered by needle or by nasal spray. (Submitted by Adapt Pharma, Inc.)

"We had nothing to combat this," said interim Sheriff Ryan Reardon.

"We started seeing far more heroin deaths ... and, of course, Fentanyl seeping in made it much more dangerous. Fentanyl's one of those opiate substances that is lethal at the microgram level."

Reardon says his department has one "confirmed save" since the kits were issued.

That happened in October when a deputy administered the drug to a man who tried to commit suicide by taking a heroin overdose.

RCMP could not say Friday whether there are plans to equip officers in this province with the kits. An Ambulance New Brunswick spokesperson said its paramedics do not carry the kits.

The statistics for drug-related fatalities are as follows:

  • In 2014, there were 47 accidental, 21 suicide related 
  • In 2013, there were 31 accidental, 18 suicide related
  • In 2012, there were 21 accidental, 13 suicide related
  • In 2011 there were 36 accidental, 10 suicide related

Those statistics also state that in 2014, 28 of those deaths were female and 40 of them were male.