Nova Scotia

Province delays program for life-saving overdose drug in pharmacies

A government program that aims to provide free naloxone, a medication used for opioid overdoses, at Nova Scotia pharmacies has been delayed while the Department of Health secures supply of the life-saving drug.

'The longer they delay … the more people die,' says Dianne Tobin, recovering heroin addict

Two vials of naloxone are provided in the kits that will be available free of charge when the government launches its new program. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

A government program that aims to provide free naloxone, a medication used for opioid overdoses, at Nova Scotia pharmacies has been delayed while the Department of Health secures supply of the life-saving drug.

In July, the provincial government announced it would be supplying pharmacies with naloxone kits to give out free of charge by Sept. 1, but pharmacies still do not have the kits and don't know exactly when they'll be receiving them.  

"The sooner we can get it into somebody's hands, the more likely we are to save a life," said Robin Ogilvie, a pharmacist and manager at Rockingham Guardian pharmacy in Halifax.

"That being said, if the program were not made available at all, then we would expect to see many more lives lost."

Two vials of naloxone, safety syringes, a one-way valve mask used to assist with rescue breathing, alcohol swabs, gloves and instructions will be provided in the government's new kits. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

A spokesperson for the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia said the organization has been told by the Nova Scotia Health Authority that the Health Department has not secured "supply and distribution."

The department would not provide details Thursday about what is behind the delay. The pharmacy association informed the province's 305 pharmacies Thursday that the program would not be rolling out as scheduled.

Protesters march peacefully to Halifax City Hall to mark International Overdose Awareness Day. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

The news did not sit well with dozens of protesters who peacefully marched to Halifax City Hall to mark International Overdose Awareness Day.

Dianne Tobin, a recovering heroin addict and board member for the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs, said the delay is a sign of government bureaucracy.  

"I've been dealing with it for 20 years," she said. "There's always delays and always some people who are against it, some for it, but the deaths keep happening every day so the longer they delay and whatever, it's the more people die."

Cindy MacIsaac, the executive director of Direction 180, a community based methadone clinic, marched carrying a large sign that said, "Naloxone saves lives."

"Ideally everyone would have had kits 10 years ago, ideally, but that's not the case, so we'll just have to accept where it is and be hopeful," she said.

Both MacIssac and Tobin applauded the government for recognizing the importance of distributing the kits free of charge.

Cindy MacIsaac, executive director of Direction 180, a community based methadone clinic, marches in a protest to mark International Overdose Awareness Day. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

Ogilvie works for a company that owns eight pharmacies and said they've only sold three or four kits at $75 each across all locations over the past year.

But in Shubenacadie, where a federally funded program already allows them to provide naloxone kits free of charge, they've dispensed approximately a hundred over the same timeframe, he said.

"I think that the cost has been an issue for some folks," he said.

Robin Ogilvie is a pharmacist and manager at Rockingham Guardian pharmacy in Halifax. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

Ogilvie said he hasn't received any definitive word on when the naloxone kits will arrive, but he is cautiously optimistic it will be within the next couple of weeks.

A spokesperson for Nova Scotia's Department of Health said in a statement it is working with the pharmacy association and health authority "to finalize the last few details" to get naloxone into pharmacies.

He also noted police, paramedics and firefighters carry naloxone kits and are trained to use them on someone who has overdosed.

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