Anglican ministers in Ottawa learn how to use naloxone kits

About 20 clergy from the Anglican church were given naloxone kits and shown how to administer the opioid antidote at a workshop in Ottawa on Thursday.

'We all have a part to play,' says Rev. Monique Stone

'We have a defibrillator. Why wouldn't we have a naloxone kit?" asked Rev. Monique Stone, who organized Thursday's workshop in Ottawa. (Stu Mills/CBC)

With reports of opioid overdoses on the rise in Ottawa, members of the city's Anglican church spent Thursday learning how to administer the potentially life-saving antidote.

About 20 clergy members attended a naloxone kit workshop organized by Rev. Monique Stone, the priest at the Anglican Parish of Huntley in Carp.

"We all have a part to play," Stone said. "We have to look at how we create the strongest net to combat this issue, and the strongest net is not something any of us can create in isolation."

Stone, whose own daughter is 16, said news of a series of recent overdoses in Kanata — along with an open letter from the father of an addicted teen — has made naloxone access and awareness more urgent.

"We have a defibrillator," she said. "Why wouldn't we have a naloxone kit?"

Naloxone can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and save a person's life. Access to the antidote is becoming a particularly pressing issue, especially with fentanyl — which was linked to 14 opioid deaths in 2015 — spreading quickly across the country.

I have been in the position of calling the ambulance for people who have overdosed.- Rev. Beth Bretzlaff of St. John the Evangelist 

In January, Canada's big city mayors, including Ottawa's Jim Watson, called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to create a co-ordinated national response to the fentanyl crisis.

The mayors told Trudeau opioid abuse is one of the most significant problems Canadian municipalities are facing.

Then, last week, Ottawa police charged 12 people in connection with what they called the city's largest fentanyl bust ever.

Second naloxone workshop planned

Stone said she's organizing a second naloxone workshop at the end of March that's open to the wider community.

That class, whose registered attendees range in age from 12 to 70, is already filled up with 30 people on the waiting list, she said.

"People in public positions need to help with de-stigmatizing [drug addiction] and help the cause," Stone told CBC News.

Anglican clergy from across Ottawa gathered at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in the city's Alta Vista neighbourhood to learn how to administer naloxone. (Stu Mills/CBC)

"There is some fear or judgement in going to a drugstore and asking for a naloxone kit. [If] we can bring down the stigma that surrounds that, then I believe we have a role to play, as other community members have a role to play as well."

'Right in the middle of it'

Rev. Beth Bretzlaff, priest at St. John the Evangelist in Centretown, was one of the clergy participating in the workshop.

"We're right in the middle of it," said Bretzlaff, whose church runs The Well, a drop-in day program for women.

"Our building is open about 12 hours a day or more, and we have lots of people who come in off the streets ... I have been in the position of calling the ambulance for people who have overdosed."

Bretzlaff said that if the Anglican church can play a role in improving access to naloxone, it's an opportunity to let people know "we're a place they can come to and that we're safe."

Stone added the opioid antidote workshop is consistent with the church's traditional role in the lives of parishioners.

"We are constantly, almost every day, playing a role in people's health. Whether they're coming to the end of their lives, or experiencing treatments in cancer, we are always involved."