SURREY — The provincial government is making naloxone more widely available in an effort to reduce fatal drug overdoses.
Naloxone, or Narcan, is a medicine used to block the effects of opioids like fentanyl, an extremely powerful opiate 100 times stronger than morphine and 20 times stronger than heroin.
B.C. is the first province in Canada to deregulate naloxone, which can now be sold at health care sites, community agencies and treatment centres.
Particularly unscrupulous drug dealers sometimes add fentanyl to their products to make them more addictive. It only takes a very small amount to kill, and has been the source of many hundreds of drug overdoses.
The government has expanded the Take Home Naloxone program, dispensing 13,746 free kits, 2,149 of which have reportedly been used to reverse opioid overdoses.
These kits are available at 297 sites in B.C. and are carried by ambulance crews and 46 fire departments. Provincial Health Minister Terry Lake said 11,000 people have been trained to use the kits. Lake added that more than 220 beds have been designated in B.C. to treat drug addicts over the past two years with that number to climb to 500 in 2017.
“We’re on track,” he said. “I think we’ve made tremendous progress.”
Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said Wednesday that fentanyl more often found in cocaine than other illegal drugs and is taking an “exceptionally high toll.” The latest stats reveal the number of overdose deaths dropped slightly last month but is still higher than in previous years.
In July the Liberal government launched its Task Force on Overdose Response, headed by provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall — who in April declared B.C.’s overdose crisis a public health emergency — and director of police services Clayton Pecknold.
“As part of the task force we will build on work aimed at long-term strategies to address this ongoing crisis,” Pecknold said.
Provincial Public Safety Minister Mike Morris said fentanyl has “creeped” into virtually every kind of street drug and says drug users are “playing an extremely dangerous game.
“Police have told us we can’t arrest our way out of this,” he said.
Last week, the provincial New Democrats charged the provincial Liberal government with not treating the fentanyl overdosing crisis seriously enough, despite it being declared a public health emergency five months ago.
New Democrat public safety critic Mike Farnworth called it a “public safety crisis that puts both casual and experienced drug users throughout the province at risk every day.
“Sons, daughters, fathers and mothers are dying every day from this drug crisis,” Farnworth added, “and Christy Clark’s government is not taking it seriously enough.”
Farnworth called on the government to license the ownership of tablet machines and pill presses, like the NDP government in Alberta has done (Morris has called for a “national approach” to restrict pill presses).
“The families of the over 400 people who have already died this year expect nothing less,” Farnworth said.
Surrey-Green Timbers MLA Sue Hammell, the NDP’s critic on mental health and addictions issues, says people wrestling with drug addictions in this province aren’t getting the help they need.
“The time for one-off solutions delivered via photo ops has passed,” she said. “Premier Christy Clark is failing people who need mental health and addiction treatment and has failed to meet her election commitment for new addiction treatment spaces — a promise that was made long before this crisis hit.
“Vulnerable people can’t wait until she gets around to it. Further delays means more lives lost in this case.”