British Columbia

50,000 naloxone kits used to reverse opioid overdoses in B.C., say health officials

Since 2012, about 175,000 free naloxone overdose kits have been handed out across the province, says the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

B.C. Centre for Disease Control handed out about 175,000 kits since 2012

The opioid antidote naloxone can save lives during overdoses. (Stefan Labbe/CBC)

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control is marking a milestone in the use of overdose kits in the province.

It says since 2012, more than 50,000 kits containing the life-saving medication naloxone have been used to reverse opioid overdoses.

In that time, 175,022 of the kits have been distributed for free from nearly 1,700 locations including pharmacies.

"Every free naloxone kit distributed in B.C. is a statement that we are committed as neighbours, as a community, as a province, to saving lives," said Judy Darcy, minister of Mental Health and Addictions, in a news release.

Take Home Naloxone

The program — Take Home Naloxone — allows anyone in danger of overdosing or witnessing an overdose to request a free kit and receive training on how to use it. Naloxone, administered by a needle or nasal spray adapter contained in the kits, can reverse the effects opioids, including heroin, fentanyl or morphine,

It was launched in 2012 and handed out around 5,000 kits by 2015. The distribution rate increased in 2016 after the province announced a state of emergency based on the number of deaths caused by illicit drugs. About 170,000 kits paid for by the province have been distributed since then.

Safe drug supply needed, say advocates

Those involved in the program say the free kits have been successful in saving lives, but more need to be done. They are calling for legislation to provide safe drugs to people at risk of overdose.

"People need access to a safer supply of substances so they don't use the highly toxic street drugs that puts them at risk of an overdose," said Dr. Jane Buxton, harm reduction lead for the BCCDC, the program that runs the Take Home Naloxone program.

Vancouver police, along with academics, experts and even governments have all called for a safe drug supply, but it's unclear how it could be implemented and administered across Canada.

The centre says it is working with B.C. Emergency Health Services to have paramedics responding to an overdose provide replacement kits to community members who have used theirs.

Paramedics respond to an average of 64 overdose or poisoning calls per day in B.C. according to the service. The BCCDC says it ships up to 19,000 Take Home Naloxone kits to registered sites every month.

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