New ammunition in the fight against opioid overdoses will soon arrive in Lethbridge.
The Lethbridge HIV Connection has been chosen as one of eight agencies in the province to distribute take-home naloxone kits, a drug which can be injected to counter the effects of opioids such as fentanyl, oxycodone, morphine, or heroin.
The kits are expected to arrive in July. A nurse practitioner will provide education, prescribe and dispense the kits to those who currently use, or have a history of using, opiates.
“We have been experiencing a dramatic rise in accidental overdose deaths in all of Alberta, but specifically in southern Alberta over the last few months,” said Stacey Bourque, Executive Director of Lethbridge HIV Connection.
“The province recognized numbers are climbing, and that they needed to respond to the situation. At this point in time, overdose deaths are now higher than car accident deaths in the province.”
Each kit contains two doses of naloxone, syringes, alcohol swabs, gloves, a rescue breathing mask, and instructions.
The kits are free of charge to clients. Family members may attend the clinic to receive training in prevention and response.
Bourque said the top opioids used in Lethbridge are fentanyl, or the illegally-produced “Oxy 80,” heroin, and prescription drugs.
Fentanyl has been linked to more than 100 deaths in Alberta last year, including at least 10 on the Blood Tribe reserve. Usually prescribed for post-surgical or severe chronic pain, the drug is known to slow breathing. In an overdose, breathing can slow to one breath every 10 seconds, until it stops completely.
Although the naloxone reverses the opioid effect, Bourque said they still encourage users to call 911 in the event of an overdose.
“It’s a window of time. It buys people time to get some medical attention. Because the overdose could return, there are two vials in each kit. Users that have these kits, it’s quite empowering for them.”
The Lethbridge HIV Connection has three satellite sites within the city. Bourque said this allows them to have a good connection with the users in the community, to ensure they get the help they need.
“These kits will save lives,” said Bourque. “In B.C., they’ve reversed over 200 overdoses since the program began in 2012. In the U.S.A., over 10,000 across the country in the number of years since the program has been running. It is an effective tool, and it keeps people connected to support services which is really important.”
Alberta Health has also approved the funding and distribution of kits to agencies in Medicine Hat, Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, Grande Prairie, Fort McMurray, and Jasper.