Students, teachers across Canada to be offered naloxone training to combat overdoses

An organization that works with schools across Canada to create CPR and defibrillator training programs is now looking to offer naloxone training programs for teachers and high school students. 

ACT Foundation completed pilot project in Ottawa, training students on how to use overdose-reversing drug

A plastic nasal spray container inside packaging.
Under a new program offered by the ACT Foundation, students will be trained to administer nasal naloxone spray. Experts say it can easily and safely be administered by minimally trained people. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

An organization that works with schools across Canada to create CPR and defibrillator training programs is now looking to offer naloxone training programs for teachers and high school students.

The program will teach secondary school students about opioids, how to recognize a suspected overdose and how to administer nasal naloxone spray. 

Naloxone is a drug that can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

The Advanced Coronary Treatment (ACT) Foundation has already completed a pilot project at schools in Ottawa.

"The students responded so positively," said ACT's executive director Sandra Clarke, who sat in on the lessons. "The majority of students thought that this was important training for them. They thought this was relevant to them."

Young Canadians hospitalized at faster rate

Between January and September of last year, at least 5,368 Canadians died from "apparent opioid toxicity," which is how the Public Health Agency of Canada classifies substance use deaths involving an opioid.

The number of deaths has soared over the pandemic, as people experienced increased isolation, stress and struggles, and as street drugs became increasingly noxious.

ACT Foundation executive director Sandra Clarke said they will offer the program to high schools across Canada following a successful pilot program in Ottawa. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Young Canadians between 18 and 24 are the fastest-growing population requiring hospital care because of a suspected opioid overdose, according to ACT.

"It's happening to their friends or their loved ones — not intentionally, but accidentally," said ACT's national medical director, Dr. Michael Austin.

"I think it's really, really important that this population not only has those tools and the skills to be able to respond, but the cultural change just to act."

A free course will be offered to school boards across Canada that will train teachers, who will then train students, in a combination of online and in-class lessons. 

ACT has provided its CPR and defibrillator training programs in more than 1,800 high schools across Canada, and said the opioid overdose program will be an "enhancement." 

The program is partially funded through Health Canada's Substance Use and Addictions Program.

Windsor-Essex school boards haven't joined program

Clarke said ACT is working with school boards across the country to start offering training programs for teachers. She believes teachers could then begin training students by fall.

But the program still faces at least one key hurdle before it will be offered by some school boards.

"We have been contacted by the ACT Foundation, however, until we are directed by the provincial government, we have no plans to offer naloxone kits or training to our students," said a spokesperson for the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board.

The board does not currently have naloxone kits inside of its schools. 

Dr. Michael Austin, ACT's national medical director, said that training high school students how to use naloxone could help reduce deaths among young Canadians. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Employees at the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) do receive training on how to administer naloxone, but it is not currently engaged with the ACT Foundation. 

"We do have many employees through our health and safety training program who are trained in administering naloxone, which they receive as part of the program offered by our provider, Second Chance CPR," said a GECDSB spokesperson.

"Second Chance does all our training, even in the specialist high skills major courses, where some students do receive the naloxone training, along with CPR and AED [automated external defibrillator]."

Students would welcome training program 

Keeley Janisse is a student at Walkerville Collegiate in Windsor, Ont., who believes the naloxone training would be "amazing."

"Being more aware of the drug crisis — especially opioids, because it's so dangerous — could definitely help the community," said Janisse.

"I think it would be a pretty good idea," said Grade 11 student Ivano Richards. "If anything happens like an emergency or something, if anybody had opioids and they had an overdose, that would be a really good idea."

Tim Baxter, an addictions counsellor at Crossroads: Centre for Personal Empowerment in Windsor, Ont., holds a naloxone kit. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Grade 9 student Jarrod Cagan said he, too, would welcome the training, though he said he thought it was unlikely someone would overdose at school.

"On the slim chance that someone does, it would be very useful for someone who knows how to treat them with this kit to help them. Plus, if they have a family member that's using drugs and they overdose, they know how to use it."

Sign of growing crisis, says addictions expert

Tim Baxter knows the power of opioids and the benefits of being trained to use a naloxone kit.

"I had a client come in here who overdosed right on the floor," said Baxter, a counsellor who works with people in recovery, as he sat inside his office at the Crossroads Centre for Personal Empowerment in Windsor. 

"It was very shocking to see that and understand what was going on."

Baxter said he used his kit and stabilized the person, while contacting 911.

"It's a pretty sad state of affairs when you think of the fact that now we're training high school youth to be able to utilize a life-saving tool that was facilitated by the choice of their friends," he said.

Baxter said he supports the school-based training, but appreciates some people might be hesitant to embrace the program. 

"I would hope that there's a massive effort to educate not only the youth, but the parents, about the dangers of opioid overdose."


Chris Ensing

CBC News

Chris Ensing is a reporter who has worked as a videojounalist and host for CBC News since 2011.

With files from Laura McQuillan