Community organizations, pharmacies running low on take-home naloxone kits

A shortage in the number of free naloxone kits available through a government program has organizations that distribute the life-saving drug in Manitoba concerned. 

Manitoba working on obtaining more kits but it might be too late for some people, advocate warns

A woman wearing a black shirt that says RaY holds a kit filled with vials and needles.
Breda Vosters, director of grants and information at Ray, holds one of the organization's few remaining injectable naloxone kits. (Josh Crabb/CBC )

A shortage in the number of free naloxone kits available through a government program has some organizations that distribute the life-saving drug in Manitoba concerned. 

Naloxone is a medication that can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose.

A provincial spokesperson said a transition to a new supplier in addition to more need in the community are behind a supply issue in its take-home naloxone program, which is being addressed. 

Resource Assistance for Youth (RaY), is one of several community organizations running low on supply.

"Typically we get about 400 or so kits of naloxone per month. Right now we're sitting at about 60 remaining in our stock," said Breda Vosters, RaY's director of grants and information. "We're running out and that's very bad given the need that's in the community."

RaY has been prioritizing distribution, giving kits to outreach staff and clients they determine to be in the greatest need. 

Vosters said the strength of street drugs has also meant more doses are sometimes needed to counteract an overdose.

"Some people are needing 10 plus injections of naloxone in order to get their heart rate going again so it's really quite a scary scene," she said.

A medical kit filled with vials and needles is show.
Supply issues through a provincial program have made injectable naloxone kits like this hard to come by for some community organizations in Manitoba. (Josh Crabb/CBC)

The province said it's getting more kits to fill back orders and expects within the coming weeks to have enough naloxone to meet any future orders.

Vosters worries that's not fast enough.

"In the coming weeks it might be too late for a lot of people," Vosters said. "We need to figure out a system that avoids gaps in supply because if you have gaps in supply... the reality is people die."

"We have to avoid these gaps down the road and hopefully this doesn't happen again."

While official counts of overdose deaths require all toxicology reports to be finalized, preliminary numbers for Manitoba show at least 39 people died a drug-related death in January 2023, according to the office of the chief medical examiner. At least one opioid was present in 27 of those deaths.

Preliminary numbers for all of 2022 — as of last month — showed at least 418 drug-related deaths in Manitoba.

Davey Cole, coordinator of Sunshine House's mobile overdoses prevention site, said the organization hasn't received an order of the injectable kits in four weeks.

"I do one about every two weeks because we go through them very quickly here. We don't put a limit on how many people can take," Cole said. "We're running out at this point. It is concerning."

Cole said Sunshine House has been working with community partners to get kits from other groups. 

Pharmacy in on Selkirk Ave. hasn't had Naloxone kits for three months

Brett Roeland, pharmacist and manager, at Northway Pharmacy Brothers on Selkirk Ave. said they haven't been able to get kits for three months.

"If we have a medication out there that can save lives but we're not able to get it into people's hands I think that's quite concerning for everyone," Roeland said. 

A man wearing a white pharmacist coat holds a kit filled with nasal spray devices in a room surrounded by glass cabinets.
Brett Roeland, a pharmacist at Northway Pharmacy Brothers on Selkirk Ave., holds a nasal naloxone kit. The pharmacy has not had an injectable naloxone kit through Manitoba's take-home distribution program in stock for three months. (Josh Crabb/CBC )

The province confirmed to the pharmacy Thursday they're sending some kits, which  will be a relief to the community, said Roeland.

The nasal version of naloxone  is currently available through the pharmacy but it's only free for First Nations and Inuit clients covered by the Federal Non-Insured Health Benefits Program.

Roeland said Quebec and Ontario have made the nasal version more widely accessible. In Quebec, it along with the injections are free for anyone age 14-years-old or older. Ontario recently expanded access to the nasal version of the medication to workplaces where there's a risk staff may witness or experience overdoses.

The nasal kits are more expensive, but they are easier to use than the injectable kits, explained Roeland. 

"Ultimately, the cost analysis comes from the government side, so they're going to have their own thoughts on that," Roeland said.

A Manitoba government spokesperson told CBC giving out nasal naloxone for free is something the province is currently reviewing.

Both the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and Winnipeg Police Service said they are not affected by the current supply issue.

Life-saving Naloxone in short supply

6 days ago
Duration 2:31
A life-saving medication is in short supply in Manitoba — amid a growing drug crisis. Naloxone can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose. The province gives out injectable doses for free, but distribution sites are running out.


Josh Crabb


Josh Crabb is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He started reporting in 2005 at CKX-TV in Brandon, Man. After spending three years working in television in Red Deer, Alta., Josh returned to Manitoba in 2010 and has been covering stories across the province and in Winnipeg ever since.