Naloxone kits a struggle to find in Ottawa, despite councillor's urging

Of the more than 30 pharmacies CBC News called in the city, only about a third stocked naloxone, an injectable antidote that helps block the effects of opioids.

'It saves lives,' says Ottawa-based pharmacist

Naloxone kits are small enough to tuck in your bag and bring to a party. They are also free if you have an Ontario health card. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

Rev. Monique Stone had one question in mind when she tried to get a naloxone kit on New Year's Eve: why not?

The Anglican Parish of Huntley priest said she first heard about the injectable opioid antidote on social media from clergy in British Columbia, a province undergoing a health crisis due to the number of opioid overdoses.

With news that Ottawa police seized about 19 grams of the deadly drug furanylfentanyl in December — enough to kill 21,000 people — she wanted to make sure there was naloxone in her area.

Anglican Rev. Monique Stone said she heard about naloxone through clergy in British Columbia (CBC)

"The chances of me being in contact with someone who has used that drug are slim to none but why not put that in my purse or put that in my office just in case?" she said.

The chair of the Ottawa Board of Health urged people to pick up naloxone ahead of New Year's Eve festivities, but Stone said she had a hard time finding a pharmacy that stocked the kits.

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.

"There's promotion of the product and maybe the pharmacies haven't caught up," she said.

She's not alone in her struggle to find the potentially life-saving kits.

Bell Pharmacy handed out 9 kits New Year's Eve

CBC News called more than 30 pharmacies in the city on New Year's Eve to see who carried naloxone and only about a third stocked the kits.

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

The kit includes two vials of naloxone, syringes, gloves and instructions, but the pharmacist also has to walk the client through how to administer the needle into the muscle.

Sonya Spanovic of Bell Pharmacy on Gladstone Avenue said her pharmacy dispensed nine kits on Dec. 31, the most it's ever had to.

Sonya Spanovic of Bell Pharmacy on Gladstone Avenue said other pharmacies may not want to carry the kit because of the stigma associated with drug use. (CBC)

Some people who came in were drug users, while others came in for kits to help a friend or family member, she explained.

The pharmacist said other pharmacies may not want to carry the kit  because of the stigma associated with drug use.

"People just don't accept everybody as a patient, unfortunately. We like to treat everybody equally here," Spanovic said. "It's very important because it saves lives."

Ottawa Public Health says of the approximately 50 overdose deaths in the city in 2015, 29 were due to opioids and 14 involved fentanyl.

With files from Judy Trinh