British Columbia

B.C. Premier John Horgan promises more funding for depleted naloxone kit supply

British Columbia's naloxone supply is depleted, forcing some police agencies to buy their own supplies of the overdose-reversing drug.

Some police agencies have been forced to buy their own supply of the life-saving drug

Paramedics and first responders work to revive a person in an alley suffering from a suspected overdose in Vancouver, British Columbia on Monday, May 11, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

British Columbia's naloxone supply is depleted, forcing some police agencies to buy their own supplies of the overdose-reversing drug.

Premier John Horgan says his government is working to allocate funding to buy more naloxone kits, which have successfully been used to reverse opioid overdoses in thousands of people in the province.

The Victoria Police Department has been paying for its own naloxone kits this past year after funding ended in April 2020, while the Saanich Police Department said in a statement that its naloxone kits will expire at the end of the year.

Bowen Osoko, a spokesman for Victoria police, says the force allocated $15,000 from its human resources budget to buy the kits, which retail between $130 and $140 each.

He says police departments across the province were notified of the funding cut, but the severity and frequency of overdoses meant the Victoria Police Department never considered not buying more kits.

Naloxone is used to urgently treat people suffering from a suspected opioid overdose. It comes in injectable and nasal spray kits. (Maggie Macintosh/CBC)

The province declared a public health emergency in 2016 as overdoses climbed due to the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, and since then 7,760 people have died from a suspected overdose.

The Opposition Liberals are criticizing the funding cut, calling it an "appalling'' decision.

Trevor Halford, the critic for mental health and addictions, said the B.C. government claims the overdose crisis is a public health emergency but cutting funding shows they think otherwise.

"The cost of a naloxone kit is not greater than the cost of losing someone's life,'' Halford said in a statement.

A rose in memory of those lost to the opioid crisis is pictured at the intersection of East Hastings and Main streets in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, British Columbia on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Osoko said the Victoria police used over 100 naloxone kits in the past year, and officers are asked to respond to overdoses daily.

Const. Steve Addison, a spokesman for the Vancouver Police Department, said the force recently purchased more naloxone kits but could not comment on the funding or size of its supply.

Sheila Malcolmson, the minister of mental health and addictions, said in a statement that "having police officers carry naloxone is integral to saving lives in our communities'' and her ministry will work to ensure there are no further funding gaps.

The "Toward the Heart'' program, which is run by the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control and offers harm reduction supplies, said in a statement that its take-home naloxone kits are available to those who are likely to witness or respond to an overdose and there are no supply issues with its programs.

Take home naloxone kits are available at no cost for patients who use drugs or are likely to witness an overdose.

Brittany Davies, education manager at Discovery Coffee in Victoria, B.C., says it is also a smart idea for businesses in B.C. to have naloxone kits on hand and staff trained to use them.

"We have stickers in our windows that show everyone that we have naloxone on site and we offer naloxone training and resources to all of our staff," said Davies, speaking to CBC's On The Island host Gregor Craigie.

All four locations of Discovery Coffee are equipped with kits and all new staff will be shown how to operate them. 

Discovery Coffee is a member of the Each + Every organization, a voluntarily collective of Canadian businesses supporting harm reduction based in Alberta.

With files from On The Island

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