While the opioid crisis trails across Canada from east to west, the country has created strategies and amended policies at provincial and federal levels to adapt to the changing circumstances. One involves making the opioid-reversing medication Naloxone more accessible.
Humber’s Director of Public Safety and Emergency Management, Rob Kilfoyle, said there isn’t currently a Naloxone kit onsite.
Naloxone, which is commonly sold under the brand name Narcan, was delisted from the federal prescription drug list in 2016. Universities in British Columbia, Manitoba, Calgary and Alberta currently have kits available at campus health centres for students.
Naloxone reverses the effects of overdoses by knocking opioids out of the opiate receptors in the brain. This counteracts the depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system which allows the person to breathe normally, giving the person time to get emergency care.
Kilfoyle said in his four years at Humber, he isn’t aware of any opioid overdose occurring although there are lots of drugs on campus.
Security guards are trained in emergency first aid and they partner with the student emergency response team, Kilfoyle said. Etobicoke General Hospital is also near the North campus if an overdose occurred, he said.
An Ontario medical directive was amended in December 2016, allowing paramedics to administer Naloxone without having to contact a base hospital physician first. In normal circumstances, paramedics must consult with a base hospital doctor before administering a drug.
Richard Alvarez, a professor in Humber’s Paramedic program, said amendments to these directives usually take months to implement.
“That was the first time, at least in my time as a medic, that I’ve seen something so abrupt,” he said.
Once a directive is amended, it must be taught to students, so they learn to administer Naloxone in their second semester, Alvarez said.
Although Ontario launched a provincial opioid strategy in October 2016 to address the issue, Alvarez said as a paramedic, he has not noticed an increase in opioid-related incidents.
“Throughout my career (the frequency of incidents) been pretty steady…I think the scare is the increased strength of these drugs,” he said.
Opioid overdoses accounted for nearly seven hospitalizations per day in Ontario in 2014-15, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information’s most recent report.
While Ontario plans to stay one step ahead of the developing opioid crisis, some of the province’s data is two years behind. The province’s health officials launched a weekly tracking system to follow the burgeoning crisis caused by opioids, prescription drugs used to manage pain which are now a major black market presence in Canada.
Weekly overdose data reports are now being compiled across Ontario hospitals and sent to the Ministry of Health to be studied, according to the ministry.
Dr. Eric Hoskins, Ontario’s Health Minister, sent a letter to the Ontario Hospital Association explaining that information regarding age, sex, address, health card number, overdose date, outcome and motivation will be collected. The data will be analyzed to “identify relevant information and trends such as geographic clustering or opioid overdoses within specific demographics,” Hoskins said in the letter.
The most recent data from Ontario’s Chief Coroner shows a steady rise in deaths related to fentanyl, one of the strongest opioids available. The province’s death rate reached 154 in 2014, the most recent data available, up from 23 in 2004.
Opioid-related deaths, including from heroin, morphine and Oxycodone, reached an annual record of 534 in 2014, from 200 in 2004. The Coroner’s Office reported a total of 4,053 deaths from opioid toxicity during that decade.
And it appears that the crisis could deepen. Carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer that can be 100 times stronger than fentanyl, made its way onto the streets last year, according to the British Columbia Ministry of Health.