Heather Hobbs

Heather Hobbs

Naloxone prescriptions creating hurdles

Health workers want opioid antitode available without prescription.

  • Sep. 4, 2015 7:00 a.m.

Pamela Roth

The distribution of nearly 200 Naloxone kits in Victoria by AIDS Vancouver Island (AVI) during the past two years has prevented numerous drug-related deaths.

But those who distribute the kits to opioid users would like to see them become available without a prescription in order to save more lives.

According to Heather Hobbs, harm reduction services coordinator with AVI, the opioid antidote given to someone having a drug overdose on heroin, morphine, oxycodone and fentanyl, has been used at AVI at least 15 times in the past year.

During the last two years, the agency has also trained close to 500 people on how to use Naloxone kits, and has received seven to eight reports of someone’s life being saved because of them. Hobbs, however, suspects the numbers are much higher.

The kits are mainly distributed to drug users who are at risk of overdosing and those who spend time with them, such as friends and family, since a drug user can’t administer Naloxone themselves. The medication quickly reverses the effects of opioids on the body by restoring breathing within two to five minutes. The effects last for at least 30 minutes, giving time for emergency responders to arrive.

The problem, said Hobbs, is that a prescription is needed to access the kit, creating a regulatory hurdle for some agencies such as police. Paramedics have been using the kits for years, but Hobbs would like to see more first responders and community agencies be able to get on board.

“The purpose of this provincial project is to make it more readily available to people in the community other than first responders. The reason why this is such a good idea is that Naloxone is incredibly safe. It’s really similar to an EpiPen. You’re not going to hurt somebody and I’ve seen it work,” said Hobbs, adding she hasn’t done any training with Victoria police officers.

“Ultimately it should not be regulated by a prescription. I think as many people as possible should carry it. It should be part of a standard first aid response.”

So far this year, there have been 26 overdose deaths from illicit substances on Vancouver Island – 12 of those are related to fentanyl. In Victoria, at least two people have died from fentanyl – a potent synthetic opioid analgesic that can appear in the form of pills or powder. The drug is often sold as OxyContin to unsuspecting users or mixed into other street drugs, but it’s about 100 times more potent than morphine and 20 times more potent than OxyContin.

Hobbs said drug overdoses in Victoria are an ongoing problem, and the introduction of fentanyl into the drug supply has only exasperated the matter.

In the past year, Hobbs estimates AVI has interacted with more than 2,000 people who’ve accessed the harm reduction program, which includes distribution of safe drug supplies and recovery of used ones.