British Columbia

B.C. health official questions value of handing out free naloxone nasal spray

A pharmaceutical company was handing out free samples of their naloxone nasal spray at a Surrey, B.C., SkyTrain station on Wednesday — but health officials are skeptical about the approach.

Injectable naloxone is more effective and reliable, says doctor with B.C. Centre for Disease Control

The spray delivers the opioid antidote nalaxone through nasal membranes. (Adapt Pharma Canada)

A pharmaceutical company was handing out free samples of their naloxone nasal spray at a Surrey, B.C., SkyTrain station on Wednesday — but health officials are skeptical about the approach.

Naloxone reverses the effects of opioids and can help prevent overdose deaths.

Since 2012, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control has handed out thousands of injectable naloxone kits as part of a province-wide overdose prevention program.

"We come from different perspectives," said Dr. Jane Buxton, harm reduction lead for the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

"We have a pharmaceutical company whose main motive, presumably, is profit. But when we look at a public health program, we want to save lives — that's our main intent."

Some have blamed pharmaceutical companies for playing a role in the opioid crisis by downplaying the addiction risks of the drugs.

The province announced a lawsuit against 40 drug companies last August, accusing the wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers of being responsible, in part, for B.C.'s ongoing opioid crisis.

Injecting naloxone provides 'a very effective, reliable dosage that is absorbed and it works in a quick way,' Dr. Jane Buxton said. (CBC)

Concentrated form of naloxone 

Aaron Sihota, a community pharmacist who was providing information on the naloxone nasal spray, along with Adapt Pharma which makes it, says it can help save lives and is much simpler to use than the injectable kits.

"Sometimes, it's difficult for those who are not health-care professionals to go through the motions of breaking open a glass vial, withdrawing a dose and then injecting it in the right place," Sihota said.

The one-time use spray kits contain a highly concentrated form of naloxone, roughly 10 times the dosage in a vial, and is administered through the nostril.   

But Buxton said there are challenges with administering the medication through the nose compared to injecting it into a muscle.

"Somebody may have snorted cocaine, for example, in which case it's not absorbed because the blood vessels can't carry or there may be damage to the nose internally," she told Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition.

The higher dosage may also mean some people will absorb significantly more of the medication, which can lead to withdrawal symptoms, she added.

The injectable naloxone kits include three doses of the medication, although about 60 per cent of people only need one or two.

'By administering [naloxone] intramuscularly, it's a very effective, reliable dosage that is absorbed and it works in a quick way,' Buxton said. 

Buxton also disagreed that the injectable kits are difficult for users to administer.

"We're not hearing that it's a problem," she said.

"We know that the people who are most at risk are the people who use substances and their friends and colleagues — those are the folks who are actually quite comfortable using needles."

A for-profit pharmaceutical company is handing out free samples of their naloxone nasal spray at a Surrey SkyTrain station on Wednesday but some health officials are skeptical about the approach. 7:16

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said Aaron Sihota was a spokesperson for Adapt Pharma. In fact, he is a community pharmacist who was providing information on the nasal spray, along with the company.
    Jan 16, 2019 4:35 PM PT

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