Naloxone kits available at Island pharmacies

The life-saving opiate antidote naloxone is available for purchase at some P.E.I. pharmacies without a prescription, though demand has been slow.

Kits available without prescription, but require consultation with pharmacist

Naloxone kits are available to the public without a prescription in Prince Edward Island. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

The life-saving opiate antidote naloxone is available for purchase at some P.E.I. pharmacies without a prescription, though demand has been slow.

All thirteen Murphy's Pharmacies across the province got their first commercially-made naloxone kits in early spring of this year.

The kits are also sold at some other pharmacy locations across the province.

"I think naloxone is a great medication to have available if there's anybody at risk of having an overdose," explained Allan Greene, pharmacy manager at Murphy's Parkdale Pharmacy. "It provides quick access to life-saving medications while you're waiting for medical help to arrive."

The medication can restore breathing and consciousness in a person that has overdosed on fentanyl or other opioid drugs.

'Demand has been slow'

Prior to getting the naloxone kits, Greene explained that Murphy's pharmacies sold their own in-house kits.

They had all of the same items as those that would go in the commercially-made kit, but sold them in a ziplock bag.

Murphy's had been doing so since the fall of last year. Naloxone has been available to the public without a prescription since June 2016.

'Naloxone is a great medication to have available if there's anybody at risk of having an overdose' says pharmacy manager Allan Greene. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"Not a large demand as yet, the information is just now being circulated by Health PEI and others that this is something that's available," said Greene.

In some provinces, like Ontario, naloxone kits are available for free, but that is not the case in P.E.I. On the Island, the cost of one kit is about $50.

"It's an expensive thing, so demand has been slow," said Greene.

P.E.I. fatal drug overdose numbers growing

Eleven Islanders died from accidental drug overdoses in 2015, according to the P.E.I. Department of Justice and Public Safety. Five of those deaths involved opiates, and one of those involved fentanyl.

Between 2005 and 2014, there had been 32 deaths from drug overdoses on P.E.I. Almost half of those deaths — 15 — involved at least one opiate. Fentanyl was involved in at least two of those drug-related deaths.

"Naloxone kits would be a good idea for anybody that had a partner, friend, husband or wife who was on medications or had lots of medications at home, if they had small children," said Greene.

Naloxone can restore breathing and consciousness in someone that has overdosed on fentanyl or other opioid drugs. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"If someone is suspected of having an overdose, and you're there, [naloxone is] an option that can save their life."

Greene added that the medication works for drugs like morphine, oxycodone, heroin, and methadone.

"In P.E.I., opioid overdose is certainly an issue. There are lots of prescription opioids and more and more, there are street opioids," he explained.

Must speak with a pharmacist first

Although a person doesn't need a prescription to purchase a naloxone kit, they do need to have a conversation with a pharmacist first. The pharmacist explains what's inside the kit, how to identify what an opiate is and how to inject the medication.

A person doesn't need a prescription to buy a naloxone kit, but they do need to speak with a pharmacist first. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

The pharmacist will also explain how to identify what an opiate overdose looks like. Greene explained that some of the identifying symptoms include blue lips or fingertips, shallow breathing and unconsciousness.

Greene also said that it's important to call 911 immediately because naloxone only lasts about 30 to 75 minutes. The drugs in the person's system might last longer than the naloxone. Without medical attention, they could overdose again.

Since Murphy's Parkdale Pharmacy began selling the kits earlier this year, Greene said that it's sold at least four naloxone kits.

'Word is getting out there'

"I think certainly the word is getting out there, and health professionals are letting people know that's an option," explained Greene.

All Island ambulances, hospitals, RCMP officers and municipal police officers carry naloxone.

In an email statement, the Department of Health says that "a team, led by the Chief Public Health Office, together with Health PEI and Justice and Public Safety, has begun work on an action plan to enhance surveillance of opioid use and create more options for harm reduction and response."

With files from Sally Pitt and Brian Higgins