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More than 7 overdoses caused by drug Baclofen since July

A patient safety group in Saskatchewan is sounding the alarm about a drug called Baclofen.

MedSask memo sent out to educate healthcare workers about dangers of drug

Dr. Morris Markentin with the Westside Community Clinic in Saskatoon says baclofen causes a euphoria similar to alcohol, and it's being used in conjunction with other drugs. (Graeme Roy/Canadian Press)

A patient safety group in Saskatchewan is sounding the alarm about a drug called Baclofen.

MedSask sent out a memo to warn health workers about an increase in overdoses from the drug after seven patients at the Battleford Union Hospital overdosed between July and October this year.

Dal Lynds, a nurse practitioner in the Battleford Union Hospital emergency department, said there have been more overdoses since October, though he didn't have an exact number.

Volatile patients

He said drug users are taking Baclofen with other drugs to increase their high. When they've overdosed, he said they come to the ER with high heart rates and blood pressure, and they're often agitated and confused.

"They don't know what's going on in their surroundings. And when the team members are trying to help them, they usually, unfortunately, become quite volatile as a patient, and then team members get hurt, the patient themselves can get hurt."

Patients with a Baclofen overdose are sent to the ICU and kept safely sedated, Lynds said. 

In severe cases, patients fall into a coma, and the drug can be fatal, though none of the patients treated at the Battlefords hospital died.

Overdoses from more common drugs like methamphetamines or opiates have protocols for staff to follow, but so far, Lynds said they don't have a protocol for dealing with Baclofen overdoses.

"If this keeps rearing its head again and again, is it not reasonable to start looking at that? I think it would be quite reasonable."

No support for mental health

Dr. Morris Markentin says abuse of prescription drugs like this is only going to increase because the root problems, like mental health, are not being addressed due to a lack of resources. 

Markentin works at the Westside Community Clinic and the Methadone Assisted Recovery Program in Saskatoon.

He said that at the methadone clinic in Saskatoon there are 600 patients and only two addictions counsellors. 

"How do you treat addiction without the support?" he asked. 

In January 2017, Saskatchewan and the federal government reached a health-care deal that included $158.5 million for mental health services over the next 10 years.

But Markentin said he hasn't seen any of that money reflected in the work he does.

"We haven't seen a huge increase of frontline staff of mental health and addictions in the past six months. Maybe the money hasn't come from the feds yet, but we're missing out."

How do you treat addiction without the support?- Dr. Morris Markentin, Westside Community Clinic

Due to the opiate crisis, and the reluctance on the part of some doctors to prescribe those drugs, the province might end up seeing more people on Baclofen. With more prescriptions, the drug is also more likely to find its way to recreational drug users.

"We cut something back, and they have to find something new."

With files from Alicia Bridges