Nova Scotia

Paramedics and 911 centre preparing for 'wave' of fentanyl

As Nova Scotia health officials brace for a wave of fentanyl overdoses, frontline workers who respond to 911 calls are learning how to use naloxone. The antidote can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, including the powerful drug fentanyl.

Officials learn to use naloxone, which reverses effects of overdoses from opioids such as fentanyl

Dr. Andrew Travers, medical director for Emergency Health Services (EHS), says all paramedics are being trained to use naloxone. (Rob Short/CBC)

As Nova Scotia health officials brace for a wave of fentanyl overdoses, front-line workers who respond to 911 calls are learning how to use naloxone.

The antidote can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, including the powerful drug fentanyl.

"We're still preparing our teams to be ready for the episodes of opioid overdoses that are coming, so we're training all of our staff in terms of proper care of these types of patients," said Dr. Andrew Travers, medical director for Emergency Health Services (EHS).

Fentanyl, pictured here, has a reputation as one of the deadliest street drugs available. (Calgary Police Service)

According to Travers, advanced life supporters have already received naloxone training. 

"We're also training our basic life support providers, our primary care paramedics, to give naloxone when indicated," he said.

Naloxone similar to EpiPen

EHS is providing step-by-step naloxone instructions to the EHS medical communiations centre as well. Travers said that will allow EHS officers to walk bystanders through the process before paramedics arrive.

"It will teach them over the telephone right at the moment that an overdose is found to safely administer naloxone. It's very similar to an EpiPen or an AED, an automatic external defibrillator," said Travers.

Each naloxone kit costs about seven dollars. So far this year, 236 drug users in Nova Scotia have been equipped with the supplies through a pilot project at Direction 180.

6 overdoses a day

On average, there are six overdoses each day in Nova Scotia. Travers said paramedics use naloxone about five times a month.

Fentanyl, pictured here, was taken in 32 drug-involved deaths in the Maritimes since 2008, but the toll could be even higher. (Canadian Press)

"The same epidemic that we're seeing in the back of ambulances are just recreated in the emergency departments," Travers said.

He said overdoses are caused by a range of drugs, including prescription pills, narcotics and alcohol. Travers has been included in discussions with Nova Scotia's chief health officer Dr. Robert Strang about the impending fentanyl crisis that officials believe will make its way east.

Fentanyl users

A man who would only reveal his first name as Scotty tells CBC News he has personally been impacted by fentanyl. His friend died from an overdose five years ago in Truro.

"I've done it myself and I'm lucky to be alive," he said.

A man who would only reveal his first name, Scotty, tells CBC News he has used fentanyl in the past. He says his friend died five years ago in Truro after taking the drug. (CBC)

Although he knowingly took the drug, he was not aware how dangerous it can be. Scotty said he now refuses if anyone offers him the drug.

"Fentanyl should not be out and around. It's a terrible drug," he said. 

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