How pharmacists are becoming the first line of defence against opioid overdoses
'I have had patients I've trained who've used kits to save people's lives in the community'
People who are concerned a friend or loved one could overdose on opioid drugs like heroin or fentanyl can turn to their pharmacists for help.
Since June 24, kits containing naloxone – a drug that reverses overdose effects – have been available to pharmacists to give out to Ontario health card holders for free over the counter.
- CAMH calls for review to combat opioid addiction, overdoses
- Record number of Ontario fentanyl deaths in 2015, new data from chief coroner's office shows
- Chronic pain patients fear side effects of opioid abuse clampdown
But Kelly Grindrod, an assistant professor at the University of Waterloo's school of pharmacy, said fewer than 10 pharmacies in Waterloo region carry the kits.
'It's made a difference'
In fact, when a CBC News reporter went to find a kit in Kitchener's downtown core, it wasn't possible. Several pharmacists said they either did not carry the kits or they were out.
Jennifer Coutu from the Canadian Addiction Treatment Pharmacy, at 509 Park St. in Kitchener, had the kit on hand.
She said it's hard to say how popular the kits are because it's difficult to assess how many kits are needed in the community.
"I know from the ones I've dispensed, it's made a difference. In terms of popularity, not everyone who needs one is taking one, but we have lots who are," Coutu said.
Ask for the kits
Grindrod said they are working with local family doctors and pharmacists to get naloxone kits to people who need them.
She said she has heard of a variety of people who have expressed interest in the kits, including one whose girlfriend had overdosed in the past and a mom who was concerned her child was experimenting with drugs.
The best thing you can do is go into your pharmacy and ask for it.- Kelly Grindrod, assistant professor at the University of Waterloo school of pharmacy
"You think you're using a Percocet you buy in the street and in fact, it's also got fentanyl in it," she said of drugs being used by recreational users. "It's so potent that if you don't know that's what you're getting, that's where overdoses can happen really fast."
And the kits are not just for recreational users, she added. People who have prescriptions for opioids are at risk, too. Pharmacists see prescriptions for high doses, and if patients aren't careful, it could be deadly.
Grindrod encouraged people to speak to their pharmacists if they wanted to know more about getting a kit.
"The best thing you can do is go into your pharmacy and ask for it, and even if they don't have it one that day, hopefully within, say, a week, they can get themselves in order, figure out how to give it out and provide it [to] you," she said.
A report released Thursday by researchers at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), St. Michael's Hospital and the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network showed numbers related to opioid use across the province.
The number of users and those receiving therapy was based on residents who are Ontario Drug benefit recipients. Those numbers did not include recreational users.
- 20% of Ontario drug-benefit recipients on prescription opioids
- 86 Ontario doctors investigated for large opioid prescriptions
The data was broken down by Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs).
- The Canadian Addiction Treatment Pharmacy was incorrectly identified in an earlier version of this story.Nov 11, 2016 10:11 AM ET