New Brunswick

'The need is not there' to fund overdose antidote: health minister

Province has no plans to fund naloxone for "everybody and anybody who wants it," Health Minister Victor Boudreau says.

Victor Boudreau says use of fentanyl not on the rise in New Brunswick

Health Minister Victor Boudreau says there isn't enough need to warrant funding naloxone kits for anyone who wants them. (CBC)

New Brunswick's health minister says there's not enough need to warrant covering the costs of naloxone, a potentially life-saving opiate overdose antidote.

Victor Boudreau says fentanyl overdose deaths aren't on the rise in New Brunswick and there have only been "a few cases a year."

"The need is not there today," Boudreau told CBC News.

"Only two of the larger provinces cover it today. But our first responders do have it at their disposal if needed. Obviously it is something that can be purchased in pharmacies as well."

Naloxone can revive someone having an overdose from opiates like heroin, fentanyl and dilaudid.

Those drugs and other opiates have been involved in at least 173 drug-related deaths in New Brunswick since 2008, according to a drug overdose database created by CBC News.

Naloxone is available at some pharmacies in New Brunswick for about $40.

But pharmacists say the cost and time to train people to use the drug is discouraging those who need it from picking the kits up.

They warn the kits will be in higher demand when the province rolls out a long-awaited prescription monitoring program this year.

People on the front lines of addiction say this could cut off the supply of prescription pills like oxycodone and dilaudid, driving drug users to more dangerous opiates like heroin and fentanyl.

At least 17 fentanyl deaths since '08

This undated photo provided by the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiners Office shows fentanyl pills. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A dose of fentanyl as small as two grains of salt can kill a person.

In New Brunswick, the drug is mostly circulating in its legal form — patches prescribed to people with serious illnesses like cancer — and in counterfeit oxycodone pills, according to the RCMP.

In western Canada, hundreds of people have died from illicit fentanyl that's often shipped into the country from Asia.

Fentanyl has been involved in at least 17 drug-related deaths in New Brunswick since 2008.

Those numbers, which come from the coroner, are at least a year out of date, meaning the true toll could be higher.

And there are signs the popularity of illicit fentanyl is heading east.

On Monday, Toronto Mayor John Tory called for better monitoring of overdose deaths, as the city braces for fentanyl overdose deaths.

Tory said naloxone should be easier to get and compared its importance to an EpiPen.

Saint John police not trained

Naloxone kits like these are carried by paramedics across New Brunswick. (CBC News)
New Brunswick is keeping an eye on the fentanyl crisis, Boudreau said, but is not "prepared to cover it for everybody and anybody who wants it."

"At present, we feel the coverage that we do have through our first responders is sufficient."

Paramedics and RCMP officers in New Brunswick carry naloxone.

But police in Saint John aren't equipped or trained on the drug.

Use of the kits is expected to be addressed during First Aid training this year, according to Saint John police Sgt. Charles Breen.