More naloxone and better data: Manitoba responds to opioid crisis

Manitoba has committed to improving data collection and expanding naloxone distribution as part of a cross-country response to the opioid crisis.

‘Opiate addiction or overdoses from opioids is touching every province’ says Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen

Manitoba has committed to improving data collection and expanding naloxone distribution as part of a cross-country response to the opioid crisis. (CBC)

Manitoba has committed to improving data collection and expanding naloxone distribution as part of a cross-country response to the opioid crisis.

"It's not an easy problem to solve. It involves law enforcement. It involves social services. It involves, obviously, medical professionals," said Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen.

On Saturday, Goertzen met in Ottawa with provincial health ministers and medical examiners from across the country, along with federal Health Minister Jane Philpott for a national summit on the rise of opioids in Canada.

"So it's important to have everybody in the same room talking about the same problem but maybe coming from slightly different perspectives, and how do you coordinate those perspectives," Goertzen said.

The conference ended with a joint statement of action to address the opioid crisis where Manitoba committed to:

  •  Improve data collection to better target interventions
  •  Expand access to Manitoba's provincial naloxone distribution program
  •  Improve prescription drug monitoring to prevent prescription drug misuse
  •  Provide specialized education for service providers and parents.

"There's a number of different things that we asked the federal government to take leadership on and there is a number of things that we need to take leadership on individually in Manitoba," Goertzen said, pointing to a national restriction of pill presses and the importation of fentanyl.

Data collection needs to improve, health minister says

Manitoba needs to improve collection and sharing of data on opioids and overdoses, Goertzen said.

"Information is important and I don't think we have as good as information as we would like when it comes to overdoses in Manitoba so that we can not only see the depth of the problem but also measure the successes or when things aren't working well," Goertzen said.

Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen says the province needs to improve data collection on overdoses. (CBC)
While expanding the distribution of naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, the province also plans "to aggressively warn parents and all Manitobans of the dangers of this drug, its presence in drugs where users cannot know it is hiding, and the dangers it poses to unsuspecting and vulnerable children and to our first responders," according to a press release.

Manitoba's health department has no mechanism in place to track overdoses however numbers from the City of Winnipeg show naloxone has been used on 651 patients since the beginning of 2016. That's up from the 418 patients who were administered naloxone in 2015.

According to city information, the number has steadily increased since 2011, when it was used on 171 patients in the entire year.

Goertzen said the province will continue to look for ways to improve access to alternative treatment therapies like Suboxone to address opioid addiction.

Data collection is an essential part of British Columbia's response to the crisis, according to provincial health officer and co-chair of the Joint Task Force on Overdose Prevention Perry Kendall.   

"It's very critical to us because we know within a few deaths from month to month whether we are making headway or process and where the areas are we need to reinforce, perhaps, our first responder or the ability for people to access naloxone," he said.

He said the province has been tracking overdose deaths on a monthly basis since 1990. Since the opioid emergency was declared in B.C., they also get weekly data from emergency rooms, paramedics and 911 calls.

"We can get the age of the individuals so we know they are mostly young, between the ages of 20 and 50, there's about four males to every female," Kendall said.

B.C. is also able to track where the overdose happened, so they can target their response whether it's distributing naloxone or information. They also have tracked the spike in overdoses following social assistance cheque distribution day, so the drug-injection facility, Insite, opens longer hours around that time.

"I think the issue of opiate addiction or overdoses from opioids is touching every province but it's not touching them all in the same way," Goertzen said.

"In Manitoba, the numbers are less [than B.C.], however every family that is impacted it is a crisis individually for them. So we need to ensure that we do everything that we can to stop every death from happening from the opioid crisis."