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Opioid overdose prevention & response in Canada
Opioid-related overdose is one of the leading causes of accidental death in Canada — in Ontario alone, close to 550 people died this way in 2011.
“The worst part,” insists Donald MacPherson, Executive Director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC), “is that these deaths are entirely preventable. Overdose prevention programs already exist across Canada. All that’s needed is legislative and regulatory changes to scale them up.”
That’s the thrust of the CDPC’s latest policy brief, developed in consultation with frontline overdose prevention workers across Canada.
The full brief “Opioid overdose prevention & response in Canada” can be downloaded here: http://drugpolicy.ca/solutions/publications/opioid-overdose-prevention-and-response-in-canada/
The brief’s public launch – Apathy and Overdose: A free public forum on accidental drug overdose – will be held on Wednesday, June 18 in Toronto at College Street United Church.
View full details of the event here:
In addition to MacPherson, speakers include Dan Bigg of the Chicago Recovery Alliance, and a panel of people that includes a parent, a former paramedic, a youth worker and a person who has illicit drug use experience – all of whom have witnessed or experienced an accidental overdose.
The event is co-sponsored by the Canadian Harm Reduction Network (CHRN), Patients Canada, John Howard Society Toronto, Jac’s Voice, The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
As CHRN Director Walter Cavalieri notes: “Unless it’s a celebrity death, overdose gets little notice, but it affects us all; we need to acknowledge this epidemic, and do something to prevent these unnecessary losses.”
Summary of Opioid overdose prevention & response in Canada
The brief itself proposes a comprehensive approach to overdose prevention and response that includes five key components:
1. Make the safe and effective medication to reverse opioid overdose (naloxone) more readily available and cost effective by including it in provincial drug plans and making it available over-the-counter.
2. Scale up community-based and other overdose programs that include education and training on how to prevent and respond to overdose. Include peers, family, and first responders in these programs.
3. Reduce the barriers to calling 911 during a drug overdose event by implementing national 911 Good Samaritan legislation (i.e. legislation that would protect people from being arrested and charged with drug possession if they call for help during an emergency).
4. Implement appropriate guidelines for opioid prescription that do not limit access to needed pain medication or result in further discrimination against people who use drugs.
5. Increase the timely collection, analysis, and dissemination of data on drug overdose events.
One of the most pragmatic and effective interventions to prevent overdose injury and death is the “take-away naloxone program.” Based on 180 similar initiatives in the US, the program involves distributing overdose response kits – take-home-naloxone (THN) kits – to people who have been trained to prevent, recognize and respond to an overdose. Naloxone is a 40-year old medication that when administered during an opiate overdose reverses the effects of the drug. It has no narcotic effect and people cannot become dependent on this drug.
Streetworks in Edmonton pioneered this initiative in Canada and similar programs have spread throughout Canada. For example, in British Columbia a THN program operates in 35 sites, from large urban hubs such as Vancouver and Surrey, to smaller rural centres such as Cranbrook, Campbell River and Fort St. John. Nearly 1000 people have been trained including staff and volunteers at health and social service agencies, as well as friends and family members of people who use drugs. Over 600 kits have been dispensed to clients who use opioids and various resource materials are being developed to assist community partners to increase the reach of the program. Since its origins in 2012, 55 overdoses have been reversed.
Executive Director, Canadian Drug Policy Coalition
Communications, Canadian Drug Policy Coalition