British Columbia is expanding efforts to slow the death toll in the opioid overdose crisis by handing out free kits containing the overdose-reversing drug naloxone from pharmacies across the province.
About 1,900 naloxone kits have been distributed to 220 pharmacies. They will be provided to anyone who is using drugs or is likely to come into contact with someone who might overdose, Addictions Minister Judy Darcy announced Wednesday in New Westminster.
Pharmacists will provide training in recognizing and responding to overdoses and how to use the kits, Darcy said at a news conference.
"Naloxone kits have saved countless lives through every corner of this province and through this program, we hope to save even more lives," she said.
To ensure privacy, pharmacies will not track identifying information about people who ask for naloxone, Darcy added.
Kits are already available at hospitals, health centres and safe consumption sites across B.C. and the province has said nearly 30,000 have been handed out so far this year.
A new app developed by a team from St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver is also being used to teach people how to administer naloxone. It shows a video on detecting and responding to an overdose, including how to use the syringe, drugs and other items in the take-home kit.
The use of naloxone has expanded across the country as the opioid overdose crisis has spread.
Ontario announced earlier this month that it would offer the life-saving drug to police and firefighters across the province, and New Brunswick began handing out kits through needle exchange programs in November. Alberta has also increased access to naloxone in recent months.
Darcy said British Columbia remains a leader in responding to the opioid crisis and the expansion of take-home naloxone is just the latest tool in the province's arsenal.
"We will continue to be bold and innovative and push the envelope because we cannot accept that four people a day are dying in British Columbia from deaths that are preventable," she said.
Dr. Mark Tyndall of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control said researchers are also exploring ways of expanding a program that provides drug users with access to the opioid pain reliever hydromorphone.
Options include giving out the drugs at safe injection sites or even through an anonymous vending machine, he said.
"I think the goal right now to address the toxic drug market is to allow people the opportunity to get other drugs. So we're exploring many different ways that could happen," he said.
Darcy said the centre's work is an ongoing research project and the province is looking forward to seeing the results.
The BC Coroners Service has said more than 1,200 people died of illicit drug overdoses between January and October of this year.