More access to fentanyl antidote will stop 'mothers kneeling at coffins,' says addict's mom

A Winnipeg mother of a recovering drug addict wants to see the overdose-reversing drug Naloxone available to anyone who wants it.

Sherry Isaac says putting the overdose-reversing drug, naloxone, in the hands of parents will empower them

Sherry Isaac lived with her 26-year-old daughter's drug addiction for 13 years. Now she wants to help other parents of addicts get trained to use Naloxone, which can reverse an opioid overdose. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

One month, nine days, 10 hours, 36 minutes and 43 seconds. That's how long it's been since Sherry Isaac's daughter used drugs.

Isaac sits in her living room checking an app on her phone called Clean Time Counter as she prepares to open up about something most people don't talk about. She recalls the first time her daughter, now 26, overdosed.

More access to fentanyl antidote will stop 'mothers kneeling at coffins,' says addict's mom

5 years ago
Sherry Isaac says putting the overdose-reversing drug, naloxone, in the hands of parents will empower them 2:38

"That was ecstasy, laced with heroin. That was my first thrust into this world," said Isaac.

Isaac's daughter was at her high school at the time of her overdose. She was 14.

After 13 years of living with a drug addicted child, Isaac had never heard of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone until last week, when police announced that the powerful drug carfentanil had made its way to Winnipeg.

"Your worst fear is of you kneeling there at your child's coffin. And with the drugs that are out there, there's going to be many mothers kneeling at coffins," she said.
Sherry Isaac has an app on her smartphone that tells her exactly how long it's been since her daughter last used drugs. She says an addict's life is lived second by second. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Now she wants to see naloxone stocked in every pharmacy in the province, and she isn't stopping there.

"I want to see naloxone in every high school. I want to see it in every Access centre. I want to see it in every corner where our children go, so that we do not bury one more child."

Naloxone is used to reverse the effects of an opiate overdose. When a person is overdosing on an opioid, breathing can slow down or stop and it can be difficult to wake them.

Opioids include heroin, morphine, codeine, oxycodone, methadone, fentanyl and carfentanil.

Isaac said parents who think their kids are safe because they don't do opiates are naive because when it comes to drugs, you never know what's in them.

"There's no guarantee that it is not laced with a lethal dosage of fentanyl. We have carfentanil in our city," she said, adding addictions don't discriminate and that any drug user can take fentanyl with or without knowing it.

"They will use whatever they can get their fingers on," she said.

Sherry Isaac wants naloxone everywhere

5 years ago
The mother of a recovering drug addict wants to see the overdose-reversing drug, naloxone, available everywhere. 2:16

After hearing about naloxone, Isaac wanted to know how she could get it.

Street Connections provides naloxone kits for free to users. Family members or friends of people with addictions can get the kit to use the drug, but they have to get naloxone from a pharmacy.

Isaac is now working with Street Connections to organize a training session for people who want to learn how to use the kits. She has put together a group of 14 people — parents of addicts and some of their children, interested in the training.

"It will empower us, knowing that in the event that our child is overdosing and we are near, that we as mothers can and will have the power to save our children," she said.

"We cannot get them clean, they have to do that themselves. In the meantime we can provide them with the resources of where they can go for harm reduction services."

Pharmacies decide to carry naloxone or not

But Isaac is frustrated that many pharmacies that she contacted in the past week are not yet carrying the drug.

"I called just about every pharmacy within this city," said Isaac, adding she only found two that carry it.

Brothers Pharmacy on Selkirk Avenue is one of them. They have been working with Street Connections to provide naloxone since last year.

A Naloxone kit, like this one at Brothers Pharmacy, contains two vials of Naloxone, two syringes, alcohol swabs, a mouth guard for administering CPR and a card that explains how to identify an overdose and how to use the kit. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

After getting training on how to use naloxone, family or friends of users are given a card and a kit without the active drug, and they can take it to Brothers to purchase two ampules of naloxone for about $35.

Brothers Pharmacy is also developing its own training program on site and are looking to build their own kits at a lower cost.

"Seeing this need, we've kind of stepped forward and said 'You know what, let's do whatever we can to make this happen,'" said Dustin Novak, a pharmacy assistant at Brothers Pharmacy.

"Anyone who is interested in having access to it, should have access to it," he said.

According to data from the Chief Medical Examiner's Office, between 2009 and 2014, an average of about 145 people died of an overdose in Manitoba each year. That number includes a range of both illicit and non illicit drugs as well as alcohol.

Numbers for 2015 or 2016 are not yet available, so it is not known if there's an increase in deaths by overdose since fentanyl arrived.

(Source: WRHA, includes overdoses from drugs and alcohol)

The number of visits to Winnipeg emergency rooms for overdoses of all kinds is on the rise. 

This year, the number of ER visits for overdoses — which includes ingestion of illicit drugs, alcohol and prescription medication — climbed to an average of 166 visits per month.

Last year's monthly average was 150 overdose-related visits, according to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority based on what patients revealed during triage. The figure doesn't include those who didn't disclose overdoses upon admittance. 

Earlier this year, the province put together a fentanyl task force to address concerns about the deadly drug. Since then, they launched an awareness campaign called Know Your Source that warns drug users about the potential for fentanyl to be in other drugs.

They are also conducting an opiate replacement therapy review, and are planning a provincial naloxone distribution system.

Overdose visits to WRHA ERs
Month/Year Visits
Oct., 2014 136
Nov., 2014 149
Dec., 2014 131
Jan., 2015 140
Feb., 2015 130
March, 2015 159
April, 2015 159
May, 2015 170
June, 2015 130
July, 2015 157
Aug., 2015 149
Sept., 2015 146
Oct., 2015 168
Nov., 2015 157
Dec., 2015 135
Jan., 2016 122
Feb., 2016 135
March, 2016 166
April, 2016 174
May, 2016 185
June, 2016 173
July, 2016 163
Aug., 2016 192
Sept., 2016 185

Since January, 250 people have had the training at Street Connections, and 127 take-home naloxone kits have been distributed. Nine of those kits have been used to reverse an opioid overdose.

An overdose can happen anywhere

Isaac said it's important for everyone to know how to use naloxone and have access to it because anyone who experiments with, or uses drugs can be at risk of an overdose. She wishes she had naloxone when her daughter overdosed in her home three years ago.

"She couldn't even tell me what she had taken because she couldn't even speak. Everything was slurred and blurred. She was foaming. She had urinated and defecated herself."

Currently, naloxone is carried on fire trucks and paramedic vehicles in Winnipeg, and police are now planning to carry it as well.

Isaac also wants to see it carried by volunteer fire departments and pharmacies in rural communities.

In the meantime, she's happy to pay the cost of a naloxone kit, which ranges from $30 to $60.

"I'll spend whatever it takes so that I'm not paying for a funeral," she said.

While Isaac's daughter is currently clean, she accepts there's always a risk of relapse and she wants to be prepared. 

"I don't know what the going rate for a dime bag is, or whatever they want to call it on the streets to get high, but I, as my recovering addict's mother, will pay whatever it takes … to have the supports here within our home to prevent a fatal overdose," she said.

Dustin Novak at Brothers Pharmacy says they are working on providing on-site Naloxone training as well as offering their on kits. (Holly Caruk/CBC)