British Columbia

Naloxone still an important tool to fight fentanyl crisis, expert says

Despite concerns the opioid antidote naloxone doesn't address the root cause of the fentanyl crisis, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control's Jane Buxton says naloxone is still an important life-saving tool.

Some critics say the opioid antidote doesn't address the root cause of the fentanyl crisis

Naloxone blocks or reverses the effects of opioids like fentanyl. Last year, B.C.'s take-home naloxone kit program distributed 16,500 kits. (Grand River Hospital)

Despite concerns naloxone doesn't do enough to address the true causes behind the fentanyl crisis, one expert says the opioid antidote is still a crucial tool in the province's fight against the overdose epidemic.

In 2016, 914 British Columbians died from a drug overdose and 60 per cent of those deaths were attributed to fentanyl.

In a CBC opinion piece, UBC professors Judy Illes and Julie Robillard questioned the use of naloxone kits, particularly how they are used and who administers them.

"Providing widespread access to naloxone kits may decrease the need to contact emergency medical services and reduce the exposure that users might otherwise have to care services for curbing or coping with withdrawal symptoms and, perhaps most importantly, services that may lead to a decrease in drug use," they wrote.

But Jane Buxton, the harm reduction lead for the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, defended the widespread use of the kits.

"It's a tool which will save lives," Buxton said. "We saw last year in 2016 over 3,100 times where naloxone was used in the community. This is not by first responders, but by people in the community."

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Last year, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control handed out 16,500 naloxone kits in response to the overdose crisis.

Buxton said while it's not 100 per cent thorough, her team does follow up with people who use naloxone and collect information when naloxone has been administered.

"We know who gets a replacement kit," she said. "We know that 60 per cent of people will call 911 when an overdose occurs and naloxone is used."

However, she said despite the fact naloxone saves lives she said she knows it's not a solution.

"I think it's something that people jumped on because we know it works," she said. "We need to look far further upstream. We need to have lots of other treatment interventions."

The Fentanyl Fix is a week long series exploring potential solutions to B.C.'s opioid overdose crisis.

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled Jane Buxton, harm reduction lead at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, on naloxone