How to access life-saving take-home naloxone kits in Saskatchewan

Naloxone is free for declared opioid users and for First Nations people through federal health benefits.

Opioid users, First Nations people can access the anti-overdose drug for free

The injection naloxone kit gives two doses in case the first dose is not enough. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

A needle in the leg or a shot up the nostril can be the difference between life or death during an opioid overdose.

The drug naloxone temporarily reverses the effects of opioids, and is available as a nasal spray or as an injectable. Just this week, a Saskatoon man used his kit when he happened upon two men, one of them his brother, seemingly overdosing. That man, Spring Gagne, said naloxone kits should be free for everyone. 
However, that's not the case. Naloxone kits are free at pharmacies for only two groups of people: those who self-declare as opioid users can receive them free through Saskatchewan Health, and First Nations people can access them through the federal First Nations Health Benefits Program, according to the Pharmacy Association of Saskatchewan.
Training in how to use naloxone is a part of getting ahold of the kits. (Screenshot/Canadian Pharmacy Association Youtube)

Anyone else who wants those kits can buy them from pharmacies in 29 communities in the province, from as far north at Ile-a-la-Crosse and as far south as Estevan. There is no paperwork or prescription required to get the kits, but people must speak to a pharmacist before buying one.

What's the cost?

The price averages around $50 for the naloxone injection kits, which give two doses in case the first dose is not enough. The naloxone nasal spray kit is harder to find, and retails for more than $100.

"Cost might be prohibitive to some of those who are not getting them for free," said Myla Wollbaum with the pharmacy association. 

The association lists six public health organizations that give the kits away to their clients for free, including clinics and programs in Saskatoon, Regina, North Battleford, Kamsack, Yorkton and Prince Albert. The Saskatoon location, the Mayfair Clinic, still charges $41 for people who are not declared as opioid users. Its pharmacist says there are certain instances where friends and family of drug users can access the kit for free.

British Columbia, which has been hit with a 1,420 suspected overdose deaths in 2017, more than 80 per cent of those involving fentanyl, initiated a similar protocol late last year, except that it also extends free kits to people who are likely to witness an overdose.

Who should have naloxone?

As a string of suspected fentanyl overdoses have hit the province, Wollbaum recommended anyone with friends and family who they suspect might be using legal opiates or illegal drugs like cocaine to get a kit.

"The vast majority of overdoses happen in the presence of other people," she said.

Symptoms of an overdose include blue lips, no breath or light breath and cold, clammy skin. Wollbaum said whether someone has naloxone on hand or not, the first step they should take when they see those signs is to call 911.