Pharmacists hand out free naloxone spray on Edmonton's Whyte Avenue
Public getting educated about Narcan but it's still too expensive to pick up steam
At the corner of Gateway Boulevard and Whyte Avenue in Edmonton, a group of pharmacists working with Adapt Pharma Canada set up a tent this week to hand out 250 free boxes of Narcan, the naloxone nasal spray.
Adapt Pharma Canada is a privately-held company which distributes Narcan, a naloxone nasal spray used to treat opioid overdoses. It's the only product of its type available in Canada.
"If I have no experience with injections before and I find that someone is dying literally in front of me, it would be so stressful to get the injection [kit] and do it," pharmacist Ahmed Fattah said Thursday.
"For the nasal spray, it comes in a very simple way," Fattah said, adding the spray's easy application can cut down response time when an overdose happens.
"I think this is a very good option and we need to increase awareness about it so we can save more lives."
Each Narcan box contains two four-milligram doses of naloxone. The drug is administered like an allergy nasal spray, with the nozzle in a nostril and a plunger.
Fattah said if the person overdosing doesn't respond after the first dose, they can be given the second dose after a waiting period of two to three minutes.
Patrick White, a law student at the University of Alberta, picked up a box of Narcan from the tent.
"Who wants to go poking people around with needles when you're not even sure if it's going to work? It's scary and you're not sure about the dosage, and what if I hit a vein or an artery?" White said.
White's friend, who is visually impaired, learned to administer Narcan on the spot.
"This is easy — you put it up the nose, you press a button and you can save someone's life," White said.
Narcan comes at a cost
In Alberta, injectable naloxone kits are available free of charge at walk-in clinics and pharmacies. Anyone can get naloxone without identification or prescription.
While the spray is subsidized in Ontario in Quebec, it isn't subsidized in Alberta.
Each box of Narcan costs $145, an Adapt Pharma representative said. But some Albertans have health plans that cover the cost.
Narcan is covered in some Alberta Blue Cross plans. It's also subsidized for people with Veteran Affairs Canada coverage, and for Indigenous people covered by the Non-Insured Health Benefits Program.
In a statement to CBC News, the Ministry of Health said it funds injectable naloxone and makes it available widely.
"The nasal spray is around four times the cost of the injectable or even more, depending on the market and the way it's purchased," the statement reads.
"The evidence shows the injectable product is very effective. So we think our approach is solid based on the evidence – it works to save lives and it's cost-effective," the ministry said.
Raj Manhas runs the Central Point Pharmacy on 105th Street in downtown Edmonton. He says about every other day, someone would come into his pharmacy to ask for naloxone.
Manhas said only a handful of clients have asked for Narcan and most of them had health insurance.
"I think it should be covered, I think a lot more people would feel more comfortable using it then," Manhas said.
"Narcan is easier to use, especially for someone who hasn't done intramuscular injections before — a lot easier to train on and you don't expose yourself to someone else's blood, which can cause other health issues."