The war on drug overdoses

Kootenay support group trains users in stopping opioid deaths.

ANKORS is taking part in a pilot program to save people from opioid overdoses.

The Kootenays outreach society is making opioid antagonist drug Naloxone available to people who use illicit opioid drugs.

In southeast B.C., people are dying from prescription opioid overdoses – pain medication such as codeine and morphine – at the same rate they are dying in drunk-driving accidents, according to Interior Health ( http://www.dailytownsman.com/news/179114961.html).

. But in the U.S., where there are 180 community based programs, 10,000 opioid overdoses have been reversed by Naloxone.

The drug, which was administered by the BC Ambulance Service 2,367 times in 2011, reverses life-threatening respiratory depression of opioids to restore breathing, usually in two to five minutes.

“This is a very simple thing to offer,” said Cheryl Dowden, executive director of ANKORS. “Naloxone has less side effects than an epipen.”

It can be injected into a vein, muscle or under the skin and can be given through clothing. Naloxone doesn’t get a person high, and it has no effect on someone who does not have opioids in their system.

Through the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, a pilot program is making Naloxone available for people who use illicit opioids, including drugs like morphine, codeine and oxycodone, as well as heroin.

Last week, ANKORS received 60 take-home kits to give out to illicit drug users in the West Kootenay.

“Our intention is to make sure this has further reach, including the East Kootenay. But we are just starting,” said Dowden.

Naloxone can only be prescribed to a named person, so ANKORS is referring opioid users to a Castlegar physician and nurse practitioner.

The person is given overdose and Naloxone training, then they see the physician for a prescription.

“We are hoping that eventually we will have more physicians on board to prescribe Naloxone, and hopefully in the East Kootenay as well,” said Dowden.

Giving Naloxone out to drug users is important because people are sometimes afraid of legal implications if they call 911.

“Part of the work we are doing is trying to suppress people’s fears around police involvement,” said Dowden.

She hopes that one day, doctors will prescribe Naloxone whenever they prescribe opioids.

“Our hope is that eventually, Naloxone will have further reach, so that if somebody is prescribed a pain medication by a doctor, they will also be prescribed a companion prescription for Naloxone.”

In the meantime, getting those 60 kits out to opioid users in the West Kootenay will have a positive effect.

“This has huge potential to save lives,” said Dowden. “The majority of overdoses take place with another person present. If people have the information and they have Naloxone, it’s kind of a no-brainer that this could save lives.”