WINNIPEG — A Winnipeg woman is pushing for the province to change the classification of the life-saving drug Naloxone.
Naloxone is a medication used as an antidote to an opioid overdose.
Arlene Last-Kolb, co-founder of Overdose Awareness Manitoba, said it would be beneficial to switch Naloxone from a schedule II drug to an unscheduled drug to make Naloxone more widely accessible.
According to the Canadian Pharmacists Association website, schedule II drugs do not require a prescription, however, when dispensed or sold in a pharmacy, they must be stored and provided from the dispensary under the supervision of a pharmacist.
When Naloxone is provided to a person for the first time, the pharmacist must talk with the person and determine whether it’s appropriate to dispense or sell Naloxone, provide information about the drug, and record the sale.
“What I would really like to see is on the shelves of our Safeway, all of our pharmacies and everything so it’s just out there right in the open,” said Last-Kolb. “Someone can go and get their kit, and if they choose that they would like to have some training, in-person training, you can do that, or, you can also do it online.”
“The idea is also to take away from the stigma, too. It should be something very much out in the open that we talk about.”
It comes amid an increase in calls to the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service during the COVID-19 pandemic, where opioid use was the main complaint documented by crews.
“We’ve noticed for sure an increase in drugs like fentanyl,” said WFPS Paramedic Public Education Coordinator Cory Guest. “We’ve been dealing with the substances for a long, long time, but it is safe to say that we’ve had a significant increase going back to 2015, but a marked increase going back to about March of this year.”
“Some folks will cope with substances. We all have different mechanisms to cope with the stresses of life and I think our new COVID world has probably poked some buttons for some folks.”
Substance use call statistics for 2018, 2019, and the first five months of 2020, compiled by the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, can be found below.
The Manitoba government is considering the move mentioned by Last-Kolb, according to a provincial spokesperson.
“Changing Naloxone from a schedule II to an unscheduled drug is being explored by Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living,” the spokesperson said. “No decision has been made and there is no established timeline.”
In Manitoba, Naloxone is currently available to people in a take-home kit through 104 registered distribution sites across the province.
The Manitoba government announced Friday it is investing $200,000 to double the access to Naloxone kits, meaning people will be able to receive two take-home kits at a time from distribution sites to reduce travel, increase resources in the community, and help with physical distancing.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has added extra stress to the daily life of all Manitobans and it is magnified in the lives of those at risk of an opioid overdose,” said Health Minister Cameron Friesen. “They may be experiencing the effects of social distancing, self-isolation, changes to health-care service access, changing drug trends and increased stress responses.”
The province said 1,315 kits were sent to distribution sites in the first three months of 2020.
Between January 2017 and December 2019, it said 4,365 take-home Naloxone kits were sent to registered sites for people at risk of an opioid overdose.
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