As B.C. stands at the forefront of the opioid crisis across Canada, a new study suggests wide distribution of naloxone has helped to significantly curb the number of overdose deaths.
The study, published in The Lancet Public Health, looked at the BC Centre for Disease Control’s use of a new mathematical model to assess the effectiveness of various public health initiatives brought in by government since the crisis hit.
A total of 869 people died over an illicit drug overdose between January and October 2016, the study said. Another 226 lives were saved with the overdose-reversing drug naloxone during that time.
“Clearly, fast and wide distribution of naloxone is key,” BCCDC medical director Dr. Mark Gilbert said Wednesday.
“We hope other jurisdictions in Canada and the world will take note and use our experience to make their own harm reduction programs as effective as possible.”
One overdose death was prevented for every 10 take-home naloxone kits that were used, the study found. (Sometimes, as many as three doses of naloxone are needed to be effective.)
Earlier adoption and distribution of the kits appear to have had a significant impact as well.
Take-home naloxone kits were made available in B.C. in 2012, and weren’t free until last December. By then, the number of people killed by a drug overdose had surpassed the number of people killed in other major causes such as car crashes.
Now, there are more than 1,500 active distribution sites in B.C., including hospitals, correctional facilities, First Nations and pharmacies.
In February, the province said more than 17,000 overdoses have been reversed since 2012, with more than 75,000 kits being distributed.
Fentanyl remains the top illicit drug to cause death in B.C. The powerful opioid is found in 71 per cent of the drugs found in people who died of an overdose, according to the coroner’s service, followed by cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin.
B.C.’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe has repeatedly said not to use drugs alone, and health authorities have launched public awareness campaigns with ads on bus shelters, in bars and restaurants.
Seven people die every two days in B.C., according to the latest government statistics. Last year was the worst in B.C.’s recorded history, with the crisis claiming 1,446 lives. That number is expected to surpass 4,000 lives, as Health Canada continues to sort data.