Expect a slow uptake of naloxone at pharmacies, chief medical officer says

Ottawa's chief medical officer of health says it's no surprise that some pharmacies are not yet stocking and distributing free naloxone.

'My basic reaction is that this is really what we'd expect'

Ottawa's chief medical officer of health says it's no surprise that some pharmacies are not yet stocking and distributing free naloxone.

CBC News called 30 Ottawa pharmacies on New Year's Eve to see who carried naloxone — an injectable opioid overdose antidote — and only about a third stocked the kits.

Pharmacists in Ontario have been allowed to provide free naloxone without a prescription to people with an Ontario health card since June.

Dr. Isra Levy told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Tuesday that CBC's findings are in line with what Ottawa Public Health has expected.

Dr. Isra Levy, Ottawa's medical officer of health, says Ottawa Public Health expected that not all pharmacies would stock and distribute naloxone in the first year of the program. (CBC)

'I found 1 in 3 pharmacies to be a good number'

"My basic reaction is that this is really what we'd expect, that I found one in three pharmacies to be a good number," Levy said.

When pharmacies in Ottawa first started distributing flu vaccines about three or four years ago, Levy said, only about 35 of the city's 150 pharmacies did so in the first year.

He did, however, say that Anglican Rev. Monique Stone's trouble finding a kit was regrettable. 

She visited four pharmacies and when she finally found a store that stocked the medication. Stone said the pharmacist was hesitant to give her a kit.

"Of course, this doesn't sound like it went smoothly in this particular situation, but if you keep your eye on the bigger picture, as far as we're aware we didn't see a spike of overdoses over the weekend," Levy said.

Anglican Rev. Monique Stone says she had to visit four pharmacies to find one that was distributing naloxone. (CBC)

'We can always communicate better'

He added that about 230 to 240 people have been trained on naloxone by Ottawa Public Health, and the agency estimates it has averted about 90 overdose deaths thus far.

"Could it work better? We can always communicate better ..." he said. 

"To some degree it's for me to apologize for that. We have tried very hard to get that information out clearly."

Anyone looking for a list of Ottawa pharmacies that carry naloxone is urged to call the Drug and Alcohol Helpline at 1-800-565-8603. More information about naloxone and overdose prevention can be found at stopoverdoseottawa.ca.