07/05/2014 08:48 EDT | Updated 09/04/2014 05:59 EDT

Naloxone access set to widen in Quebec

A potentially life-saving drug that can temporarily reverse the effects of a drug overdose could soon be in the hands of more front-line workers.

The drug, naloxone, is currently only available in hospital emergency rooms in the province.

However, a spokeswoman for Lucie Charlebois, Quebec’s minister responsible for public health, confirmed to CBC that the province will expand access to the drug.

No further details were released.

That confirmation comes as public health officials in Montreal struggle to cope with a dramatic spike in overdose-related deaths tied to a significant increase in the potency of street heroin.

According to numbers released by Montreal public health Thursday, 53 people overdosed and 18 died in May and June, a fourfold increase over the average.

Dr. Richard Massé, the city’s director of public health, said he is still waiting to hear more about how access will be expanded, but he expects that it will become available to Urgence Santé and social service groups whose clients are opioid users.

“We have been supportive of that project because we think that availability of naloxone through community groups and Urgence Santé is something that will save lives at the end. So, we’re very happy with this decision.”

Massé said if training is fast-tracked, the drug could be available more widely in the city before the end of the summer.

Several Canadian provinces already allow front-line responders and social service agencies to administer or distribute the drug.

In Toronto, the city’s public health department runs a peer-based naloxone distribution program called POINT, or Prevent Overdose in Toronto, which teaches current and past opioid users and their families how to recognize the signs of an overdose and administer the drug.

In some American jurisdictions, including New York City, front-line police officers have also been trained and equipped with the drug.

Naloxone can be easily administered by someone with minimal training, which is why more and more public health professionals have been calling for easier access to the drug.  It works by counteracting opioid’s depression of the central nervous system which, in an overdose situation, can slow or stop a person’s breathing.

The drug, which wears off after 30 to 90 minutes, can be injected into the muscle or under the skin or can be sprayed up the nose.