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Canada's Health Agency Finally Says it Wants to Make it Easier to Get Opioid Antidote

The announcement comes amid a growing wave of fentanyl-related overdoses in Canada that some communities are describing as a public health crisis.

by Tamara Khandaker
Jan 14 2016, 11:25pm

An opioid overdose kit with Naloxone. (Photo by John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Amid steadily growing public concern surrounding fatal overdoses involving fentanyl, Health Canada has proposed making naloxone, an antidote to opiates and opioids, more widely available.

Right now, naloxone is a prescription only drug, but health care practitioners, families of victims, and front-line workers have been asking for years for it to be easier to access.

Following a review of its prescription status, Health Canada is proposing that the non-perscription use of naloxone, specifically for "emergency use for opioid overdose outside hospital settings" be allowed. The change would come with revisions to the product label and require training for anyone who might be administering naloxone, which temporarily reverses the effects of opioids.

Some provinces and cities, like Ontario and Alberta, have already made naloxone more accessible by handing out kits to current and former opiate users and their families, and training them how to administer it during an overdose. In many parts of the country, however, the drug has only been available to first responders.

In a news release, Health Canada said it has already studied things like the record of adverse reactions to the antidote, the requirements for administering it, and the need for immediate follow-up treatment.

Now, the agency is asking Canadians for their input —"if the change in status continues to be supported by the evidence and input received during the consultation, the change will be finalized," said the news release. The six-month implementation that normally follows such decisions will be waived so that the status change can come into effect as soon as possible.

The news was celebrated on Twitter, with some thanking Health Minister Jane Philpott for bringing about the proposal, although the review was started under former prime minister Stephen Harper. 

The announcement comes on the same day Manitoba's government announced it will be forming a task force to tackle illegal fentanyl use in their province. Although Manitoba hasn't been hit with as many fatal overdoses as provinces like British Columbia and Alberta, officials believe a spike in use might be coming, having already seen more of the drug on the streets.

"The wave of fentanyl hasn't really hit the province yet, and we want to keep it that way," Manitoba Attorney-General Gord Mackintosh told the Globe and Mail.

Between 2009 and 2014, fentanyl was directly or indirectly involved in a total of 655 overdose deaths in Canada. 

Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter: @anima_tk 

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