Kits for addicts now available

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February 9, 2016 10:00 AM

Life-saving drug for fentanyl users

Lloydminster has the go-ahead to prescribe and give out naloxone, a drug that temporarily reverses the deadly effects of fentanyl.
Lloydminster is one of three locations in Alberta Health Services’ (AHS) central zone, in which the life-saving drug is now available to those who use fentanyl, a powerful opiate commonly prescribed for pain to terminal cancer patients.
The narcotic has seen some popularity in recent years with recreational users, a move that’s led to a spike in overdose related deaths.
Last year there were 272 deaths from fentanyl in Alberta, according to AHS, 35 of which happened in the central zone. 
The Thorpe Recovery Centre in Blackfoot is one of the three locations now allowed to provide the antidote naloxone.
“We have entered into a partnership with AHS and we’ll be doing both in-patient and out-patient for the naloxone distribution,” said Teressa Krueckl, executive director of Thorpe Recovery Centre.
For in-patients at the recovery centre, naloxone kits are onsite so clients who come in for detox have the benefit of the lifesaving drug.
For out-patients, the centre is doing things on an appointment basis, so people who aren’t clients and need a naloxone kit have to meet with the recovery centre’s nurse manager for a review to see if they are eligible.
If approved, then a prescription is given and the out-patient will receive training on how to use the kit.
“Typically we’re an abstinence based model; however, we’ve really identified that the use of fentanyl is a huge crisis in Alberta and we have agreed to run an out-patient program for the naloxone kits,” Krueckl said.
AHS approached Thorpe Recovery Centre in early December and asked if they’d consider being a distribution site for naloxone, to which the centre readily agreed.
Krueckl said the centre has a partnership with AHS and if it could help combat addiction, specifically in Alberta, then it was on board to do it.
Dr. Nicholas Etches, a medical officer with AHS, said the kits have been distributed in Alberta since July but the health service is now increasing that distribution to 29 locations across the province, free of charge.
AHS will also be expanding the list further, updating it weekly, and people can keep tabs by checking out the website drugfool.ca.
“We’ve been working on this for a while and we know we need to get more naloxone into the communities,” he said.
“Fentanyl continues to be a public health crisis in the province.”
Dr. Etches said naloxone isn’t a new medication; it’s been used for decades in emergency rooms and ambulances, so it’s something health professionals know and understand well.
He described it as “extremely safe” and effective in reducing overdose related deaths from opiates.
Something that’s important to clarify, according to Dr. Etches, is that the fentanyl on the streets is not “diverted prescription fentanyl.”
In other words, the fentanyl recreational users are overdosing on is made and sourced illegally and doesn’t come from a prescription pill bottle.
“So we’re giving kits to anyone who’s coming to us saying, ‘I’m illicitly using an opioid,’” said Dr. Etches.
“Because we know they’re at risk, so those are the individuals to whom kits are being given.”
When overdosing on opioids like fentanyl, the brain tells the lungs to stop working and the cause of death is more often from lack of oxygen than it is from poisoning.
Naloxone is what’s called a “competitive antagonist” at the opioid receptors in the brain, and works by removing and blocking fentanyl from these receptors.
This causes the fentanyl to stop working on the brain and the overdose victim then wakes up and starts breathing again.
“That effect will last 30 to 60 minutes and that’s why it’s so important to call 911,” said Dr. Etches.
“Because after that time the person either will need more naloxone or often they return to an overdose.”

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