Overdose is the most common cause of death among people who use illicit opioids. It is also a significant cause of mortality among people receiving methadone maintenance therapy for opioid addiction and among people prescribed opioids for pain. Canada has the world’s highest prescription opioid consumption rates, so prescribed or diverted opioids constitute a “major and acutely rising substance use and public health crisis”(Ulan S, Davison C, Perron M. First Do No Harm: Responding to Canada’s Prescription Drug Crisis. Ottawa; 2013:84). In BC, 333 deaths in 2013 were due to illicit drug overdoses (including opioids), while 122 methadone maintenance therapy patients died in 2011/2012. Further, around 70 people using prescription opioids die annually in BC.
Naloxone is an antidote to an opioid overdose; it reverses the effects of opioids and has no effect in the absence of opioids. In the event of an opioid overdose, naloxone restores normal breathing within 2-5 minutes of administration and the effects wear off after 30-90 minutes. Although naloxone is a safe drug with rare side effects, it is a prescription-only medication in Canada. Since 85% of overdoses happen in the company of others, ensuring naloxone is available for people who use opioids has been shown to save lives and reduce harms related to overdoses.
Through the BC Centre for Disease Control’s Harm Reduction Program, sites participating in the Take Home Naloxone (THN) program provide overdose prevention, recognition, and response training to participants. In addition to the training, eligible participants, i.e. those using opioids, receive a THN kit, empowering them to reduce overdose risks and be prepared in the event of an opioid overdose.
Title: Epidemiologist, Communicable Disease Prevention
Contact information: Ashraf.Amlani@bccdc.ca