Nova Scotia jails moving to provide naloxone

The arrival of the highly potent opioid fentanyl in Nova Scotia is prompting the province's jails to move more quickly on a plan to provide frontline staff with a potentially life-saving overdose reversal drug naloxone, says the director of correctional services.

Arrival of highly potent opioid fentanyl promts jails to consider providing overdose reversal drug

Sean Kelly, director of correctional services in Nova Scotia, says Naloxone kits are needed immediately. (The Associated Press)

The arrival of the highly potent opioid fentanyl in Nova Scotia is prompting the province's jails to move more quickly on a plan to provide frontline staff with a potentially life-saving overdose reversal drug, says the director of correctional services.

Sean Kelly said a final decision on whether to allow guards or other staff to provide naloxone in jail overdose cases hasn't been taken, but it is necessary to make the drug quickly available in the province's prisons.

"We need to have it accessible and immediately accessible in the event of a medical emergency, and I'll accept the opinion of the subject-matter experts in terms of how to properly make it available," he said.

2 inmates dead

Paramedics who rush to the scene of prison overdoses normally carry naloxone.

However, in two cases over the past two-and-a-half years, inmates have died in prison cells from opioid overdoses and the existing response system wasn't able to revive them.

Jason LeBlanc, 42, died on Jan. 31 at the Cape Breton Correctional Facility from a combination of methadone and a tranquilizer, while 23-year-old Clayton Cromwell died in the Central Nova Correctional Facility in April of 2014 after overdosing on methadone.

Heightened sense of urgency

Kelly said research has been ongoing on how to bring naloxone into the provincial jails, but the emergence of fentanyl — which can be fatal in amounts the size of a grain of salt — has heightened the sense of urgency.

The corrections director is sitting on one of seven committees the province has set up through the chief medical officer of health to come up with ways of heading off a British Columbia-style epidemic of fentanyl-related deaths.

Dr. Robert Strang, the chief medical officer, said last Friday the committee will look at the use of naloxone in a number of settings, including jails.

'We want to be well-prepared'

Kelly said the committee will report back early in the new year, but it's possible that initiatives to prevent opioid overdoses will begin before then.

He said naloxone is used in other provincial corrections systems and he wants to draw on their experiences to understand how to bring it to Nova Scotia jails and train staff to administer the drug.

The Justice Department is also consulting with pharmacists and Doctors Nova Scotia on use of the drug.

"We know that fentanyl is coming into the country quite rapidly and from a number of sources and it wouldn't take much ... for someone to try and smuggle it into our facility. So obviously we want to be well prepared in the event we have that kind of emergency," Kelly said.

49 opioid-related deaths in N.S.

B.C. has been wracked by an overdose crisis that has claimed more than 550 lives since the beginning of 2016.

About 60 per cent of those deaths have been linked to fentanyl, which has been detected in virtually every type of street drug.

In B.C., students at the University of British Columbia can access take-home naloxone kits on campus from student health services if they think they are at risk of an overdose.

Last week, Nova Scotia announced it has had 49 opioid-related overdose deaths this year, with seven being caused by fentanyl.