HEALTH/WELLNESS: Government takes action to prevent opioid overdoses and save lives
Government is taking immediate action to address the increase in illicit fentanyl and other synthetic opioids in Nova Scotia with more than $1 million in funding.
The Department of Health and Wellness is spending $564,000 to expand access to naloxone, a medication that blocks the effect of opioids and can reverse an overdose. This funding will support the purchase and distribution of naloxone kits through a range of community and health care organizations, including community pharmacies and municipal police.
"Our first priority is to save lives. We have learned from other provinces that illicit opioids are a serious risk to anyone using street drugs and, more often, that includes young people," Health and Wellness Minister Leo Glavine said in a March 10 announcement.
"These drugs are becoming more widely available in Nova Scotia, which is why we're taking action now before this becomes a crisis in our own province."
Government is also investing $559,000 to support three community-based harm reduction organizations in 2017/18:
- $160,000 in new funding to Northern Healthy Connections Society, Truro
- an increase of $247,000 to Mainline Needle Exchange, Halifax
- an increase of $152,000 to Sharp Advice Needle Exchange, Sydney
"These investments support and enhance the good work already underway in our communities," said Mr. Glavine.
Life-saving naloxone is already available in ambulances and emergency rooms throughout Nova Scotia, and, when necessary, to those being discharged from correctional facilities.
Pilot programs in Halifax and Sydney have made naloxone kits available directly to people who use drugs through community organizations and treatment programs. Since these programs began, the kits have been used more than 30 times to save lives.
"Opioid overdoses needlessly take lives, place significant stress on communities and can overwhelm first responders and emergency departments," said Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health. "By putting the resources in the hands of the people who need it most, we can treat overdoses quickly and save lives."
Sixty people died of opioid overdoses in the province in 2016, four of which involved illicit fentanyl.
Mainline Needle Exchange has been operating in Halifax for 25 years. It is a health promotion program that provides harm reduction supplies to people who use drugs, education, peer support to assist with detox and treatment programs and help to access government and community services, including legal support, housing, and food.
"In the last 15 years, demand for our services has increased by more than a thousand per cent," said Diane Bailey, director, Mainline Needle Exchange. "Our Mainline site is open seven days a week. This increase in funding will allow us to expand our central mobile outreach project to seven days a week as well, and to work with our partners to reach at-risk groups in communities right across the province."
A full opioid response plan is being developed by government and is expected to be completed this spring.