AIDS Saskatoon asking for right to hand out naloxone kits for overdoses

While the Saskatchewan Health Authority has started a program that gives out kits to combat opioid overdoses, they're only available from the health authority or certain pharmacies.

Take-home kits can only be administered through pharmacies, clinics

AIDS Saskatoon executive director Jason Mercredi wants the ability to hand out naloxone kits after a string of fentanyl-related overdoses in the city. (Don Somers/CBC)

The executive director of AIDS Saskatoon says his association wants the ability to hand out take-home naloxone kits to prevent overdoses in the city.

This weekend, two people died in Saskatoon after allegedly using cocaine cut with fentanyl, a powerful opioid. On Saturday, police received six calls from three different locations about people suffering from overdoses.

While the Saskatchewan Health Authority has started a program that gives out kits to combat opioid overdoses, they're only available from the health authority or certain pharmacies.

Naloxone kits have been lauded as an effective way to combat overdoses. The kits contain two doses of drug to be given in case of an overdose.

While the kits are not meant as a replacement for treatment, they can give people who overdose enough time to be transported to hospital.

"All of our staff are trained in naloxone and have naloxone kits on them," said Jason Mercredi, AIDS Saskatoon's executive director. "But the way it's set up right now, we can't be a distribution site."

Mercredi said it would be a good thing to have more kits in circulation.

"What we're trying to do is preventative measures to get people the kits before they're going out partying," he said. "We'd like to see that people are taking it out with them when they go out to party if they're using cocaine."

Naloxone kits are available at Saskatchewan Health Authority clinics and several pharmacies around Saskatoon. (Radio-Canada)

By allowing a group like AIDS Saskatoon to distribute the drug, Mercredi believes stigma around the kits would be reduced. 

"There's no judgment on our part. If people are going to use drugs, we just want them to be able to use safely."

For now, the group is offering free rides to Mayfair Pharmacy to get naloxone kits, and will pay for kits for people who can't afford the $30 fee.

In an email, a Ministry of Health spokesperson wrote that pharmacists must be involved in the sale of naloxone, but that "Going forward, we will consider the request to support partner agencies such as AIDS Saskatoon in providing supplies, education and training in administering naloxone kits."

Training important

The Saskatchewan Health Authority offers sessions twice a week in Saskatoon where drug users and their friends and family can receive training on how to use the kits.

"We believe it's important that people consider having a naloxone kit with them if they, or a loved one, are using opioids," said Tracey Muggli, the authority's director of Saskatoon mental health and addictions services. "We're happy to work with them to provide that."

Since the Take Home Naloxone program launched in Saskatoon in 2015, it has spread to many major centres across the province. The Ministry of Health says more than 500 take-home kits have been used, and more than 1,700 people have received the training.

The kit's instructions ask that the user call 911 before administering the drug.

"Although the naloxone may begin to work in five minutes, it may stop working in 20 to 30 minutes," said Dr. Peter Butt, an addictions consultant and professor at the University of Saskatchewan's College of Medicine. "During that period of time, the opioid poisoning may continue. This is a problem when people don't call 911 and get more definitive care."

Butt said people suffering from a drug overdose generally have shallow breathing, their skin may turn blue around their fingernails and may have difficulty responding to people.

The authority said any health care service they provide, including distributing naloxone kits, is kept confidential.

With files from Charles Hamilton