Life-saving opioid overdose drug hard to find in Montreal, nurse discovers

Quebec nursing professor Marilou Gagnon says the province is unprepared for a crisis.

Gatineau-based nursing professor Marilou Gagnon says Quebec is unprepared for a crisis

A look inside a naloxone kit

6 years ago
Duration 1:40
Naloxone counteracts the effects of opioids like Fentanyl and Oxycodone.

Quebec nurse Marilou Gagnon went from pharmacy to pharmacy in Montreal recently, trying to find one that carried the life-saving opioid overdose drug, Naloxone.

It wasn't for herself, or even for one of her patients. The Gatineau-based nursing professor was in Montreal for a conference in April, and was out to prove a point. 

"I wanted to see how easy or hard it would be to get my hands on Naloxone that night," she told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

It turned out to be impossible.

"​Some pharmacists didn't even know what Naloxone was," she said. 

When she found a pharmacy that did have it, they refused to give or even sell it to her, saying that she didn't qualify as a drug user and didn't undergo the proper training on how to administer it. 

Naloxone counteracts the effects of opioids like Fentanyl and Oxycodone and has played a key role in the fight against the opioid crisis facing British Columbia. 
Marilou Gagnon is a professor of nursing in Ottawa. (Submitted by Marilou Gagnon)

In June, 111 people died from overdoses in B.C., up 88 per cent from the same period last year.

Gagnon, who teaches at the University of Ottawa School of Nursing, says Quebec's problems go way beyond limited access to the antidote.

"We have absolutely no numbers on overdoses and overdose-related deaths in the province. We don't know what's happening. So we can't really say that there's no crisis and it hasn't hit Quebec yet," she said.

And while a spokesperson for the Public Security Ministry says that so far, Quebec has been "spared," Gagnon believes otherwise.

"It's really not what I'm hearing from my colleagues on the ground," she said.

Proactive measures

In Ontario, the government has given out thousands of Naloxone kits for free. Gagnon said the training on how to administer it is given in hospitals and by pharmacists so that people can administer Naloxone at home.
Naloxone in Ontario, B.C. and Nova Scotia are being given out for free as take home kits. (CBC)

In B.C., the training is even offered online.

But in Quebec, specifically in downtown Montreal, Gagnon said finding the drug was next to impossible. And in the case of an overdose, she says, "time is of the essence."

Gagnon said that while most paramedics now carry it, police officers and firefighters don't, so even recreational drug users need to be prepared.

She told Daybreak that she wants to see the province be "proactive," saying they are late to the game when it comes to awareness campaigns, education and access.

"It's really hard to justify making this really complicated when other provinces are scaling up the distribution," she said.

Ministry working on it

On behalf of the Public Security Ministry, spokesperson Noémie Vanheuverzwijn told CBC that "work is underway to prepare for a possible crisis."

The statement went on to say that "Naloxone is available to anyone in the pharmacy without a doctor's prescription. There is no compulsory training for either the pharmacist or the patient."

When it comes to administering Naloxone, Gagnon says 'time is of the essence.'

They say an action plan will be unveiled in the coming months. In the meantime, all paramedics are given training on how to use it and supervised injection services are now offered by the CIUSSS Center-Sud-de-l'Île-de-Montréal.

Public Security Minister Lucie Charlebois was not available for an interview.

With files from CBC Daybreak