Life-saving naloxone kits soon available without prescription

The Alberta government is providing free take-home naloxone kits from community pharmacies without a prescription beginning Friday, May 13.

In the first three months of this year, 69 Albertans have died from fentanyl overdoses, government says

Beginning Friday the Alberta government will provide free take-home naloxone kits. (Government of Alberta)

Take-home naloxone kits used to reverse drug overdoses will be available at pharmacies without a prescription starting on Friday.

The kits can be used to block the deadly effects of an overdose from an opioid drug such as fentanyl.

There were 69 deaths in the province from fentanyl overdoses in the first three months of this year, Brandy Payne, associate minister of health, said at a news conference Wednesday.

The chief medical examiner's office reported 274 fentanyl-related deaths in Alberta in 2015.

"We encourage any Albertan who's at risk, or who lives with someone at risk, to get a kit", Payne said.

To date, more than 2,000 naloxone kits have been provided to Albertans who are at risk of overdosing, she said.

Though tracking is difficult because reporting is voluntary, Payne said the government knows that more than 120 kits have already been used to save people who overdosed on fentanyl.
Along with free take-home naloxone kits, the province is expanding the Opioid Dependency Treatment Plan strategy. (CBC)

There are 1,100 pharmacies in Alberta, of which 600 have registered to provide the kits.

Payne said people should call ahead to their local pharmacy to make sure it has take-home kits available.

"Naloxone is safe, effective and saves lives by temporarily reversing an overdose of fentanyl, allowing a person time to get emergency medical help," Payne said.

Alberta is now the second province in Canada to offer take-home naloxone kits without a prescription. British Columbia has done so since March 2016.

Enhanced drug treatment strategy

The province will also provide $3 million to Alberta Health Services to support the Opioid Dependency Treatment Plan Strategy.

The three-year project will expand counselling services and access to suboxone and methadone treatment in communities where the need is greatest, Payne said.

By the end of the first year, Payne said, the government expects an additional 240 Albertans will receive opioid replacement treatment, an increase of 20 per cent from the number currently being treated at AHS clinics.

Fentanyl, an opioid up to 100 times more powerful than heroin, is used as a painkiller for terminal cancer patients. But on the streets it has emerged as an Oxycontin replacement after that drug's formula was changed to make it harder to abuse.