Naloxone nasal spray for opioid overdoses now free for eligible First Nations and Inuit

Naloxone nasal spray, an opioid antidote, will now be covered for First Nations and Inuit, the federal government says.
Naloxone in the form of a nasal spray was listed as an open benefit on March 27 under the Department of Indigenous Services Canada's Non-Insured Health Benefits Program. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Naloxone nasal spray, an opioid antidote, will now be covered for First Nations and Inuit, the federal government says.

Naloxone can be a life-saving tool to help someone suffering from a suspected opioid overdose. It temporarily reverses the effects of an overdose.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada announced on Thursday that the nasal spray will be eligible for coverage when prescribed or recommended by a pharmacist.

People may request the drug for their personal use or to protect a person who may be at risk.

The injectable form has been covered under the Department of Indigenous Services Canada's non-insured health benefits program since June 2016, the department said.

The benefits program provides coverage for certain drugs, dental care, vision care, medical supplies and equipment, mental health counselling and medical transportation for eligible First Nations and Inuit.

The spray was listed as of March 27.

Breaking down the financial barrier to the Naloxone nasal spray is a step in the right direction, but there are other barriers, said Dr. Jason Pennington, a Huron-Wendat surgeon at Scarborough and Rouge Hospital in Toronto.

Just getting a prescription is a huge barrier for people who have precarious access to primary health-care providers and pharmacists, in addition to language, cultural and education barriers, Pennington said. He called for community informed and culturally appropriate education around opioids and signs, symptoms and treatment of opioid overdose for the funding to have a meaningful impact. 

"Throwing money at treating symptoms, although it may make one feel better temporarily, will not cure the disease," Pennington said in an email. 

A record number of Canadians died of opioid overdoses in 2017, federal and provincial figures suggest. From 2016's then-record 2,861 deaths, 2,923 victims were reported in just the first nine months of 2017.