The Nova Scotia government is spending just over $1.1 million to help prevent opioid overdoses, in part by increasing the availability of naloxone kits across the province.
Naloxone is a drug that can be injected into someone who has overdosed on fentanyl, morphine or another opiate.
"I think this is a critically important investment ensuring there is equitable access across all of Nova Scotia," said Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief public health officer.
The funding is for the 2017-18 fiscal year and will allow for the purchase of 5,000 naloxone kits at a cost of $564,000.
These kits will be available through community and health-care organizations, including pharmacies and municipal police forces, said a news release from the province.
At present, naloxone is available in ambulances, emergency rooms, and under certain circumstances to people being discharged from correctional facilities, said the province.
It said there are pilot programs in Halifax and Sydney that make the kits available directly to opioid users. The kits have been used more than 30 times to save lives as part of those pilot programs.
The remaining $559,000 will go to three harm reduction organizations and allow them to expand their safe-needle exchange programs, as well as train staff to hand out naloxone kits. The organizations are:
- Northern Healthy Connections Society in Truro.
- Mainline Needle Exchange in Halifax.
- Sharp Advice Needle Exchange in Sydney.
As part of its services, the Mainline Needle Exchange does mobile outreach where it goes into communities and administers safe-needle exchanges.
"We always had limited hours we can do this, so now we can extend our hours," said executive director Diane Bailey, noting mobile outreach will expand from four to seven days a week.
According to the province, 60 people died of opioid overdoses in Nova Scotia in 2016, with four of those deaths involving fentanyl.
Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more toxic than morphine, and overdose rates have spiked.
"This isn't just about people who use opioid drugs. There is the potential for fentanyl to contaminate any powdered street drug, cocaine, methamphetamine," said Strang.
Deadlier than ever
He said today's drugs are the riskiest they've ever been. He said people who take drugs should be aware of what they're consuming, have someone with them and have a naloxone kit nearby.
Strang said he knows the investment isn't a cure-all.
"Our investment is meant to reduce those overdoses and certainly reduce the deaths," he said.
The province said it expects to release a full plan this spring for how to address the opioid problem.