Six hundred kits of naloxone, an injection drug used as an emergency opiate overdose treatment, are starting to hit the streets around Halifax and Cape Breton.

At Direction 180, Halifax's methadone clinic, a small group of drug users received training Tuesday.

They learned how to administer naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an overdose from opiates such as fentanyl, heroin, methadone and oxycontin. They also discussed how to spot signs of an overdose and factors that increase the risk of death.

They were each handed a kit. It includes two vials of naloxone, rubber gloves, syringes, an instruction sheet, and a prescription card tucked into a sunglasses case. Each kit costs about $7. The cost of the $120,000 pilot project is being covered by the province.

Gloria Leblanc decided to get one after losing two friends to opiate overdoses.

"It's scary, it's an eye-opener, it hurts," said the 21-year-old Halifax woman. Last year, she witnessed another friend almost die, but was able to call 911. 

"It's a scary experience and you feel really helpless," she said. "Hope it doesn't happen, but I can do something about it finally."

Intervene on the spot

Drug users often fear calling 911 to report an overdose as it can lead to trouble when police show up, according to the executive director of Direction 180.

Cindy MacIsaac says naloxone addresses that dilemma.

"Because they're afraid of being arrested, and so by having the naloxone kit there, you can intervene on the spot and minutes matter when an overdose occurs," she said.

Cindy MacIsaac

Cindy MacIsaac, executive director of Direction 180, hopes to hand out all 300 kits of naloxone. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Three hundred kits are available for distribution in Halifax and 300 in Cape Breton, which has the province's highest rate of overdose deaths.

Based on naloxone's use in other provinces, MacIsaac estimates for every 100 kits that go out, 10 lives will be saved.

"Just because somebody uses drugs doesn't mean that their lives don't matter," she said. "We need to keep supporting people … because a dead addict can't get clean."

Dave Cluett uses methadone to battle his addiction to oxycontin, and says he knows between 25 to 30 people who have died from an overdose.

"There's way too many people dying from this stuff," he said as he agreed to take a kit. "Sad, eh," he reflected.

"I think it's a great idea for people like myself. If I ever come across a situation I wouldn't think twice to administer it to help save anybody."