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Fentanyl crisis spurs campus response

WHOANDWHAT in Calgary on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017. WHYANDMORE. (Photo by Aly Khan/SAIT)

More than 400 opioid deaths have been prevented in Alberta since the introduction of take-home naloxone kits, according to data released from Alberta Health Services.

“The first step is coming in [to the clinic],” said Rachelle Suing, a registered nurse at SAIT’s Health Services Clinic. “Naloxone is safe to have and it’s free.” 

The naloxone kits were introduced in reaction to the growing number of Fentanyl deaths and overdoses in Alberta. In order to qualify for a kit, the individual must be an opioid user and receive training on how to use the kit.

This pattern has been seen across Canada since 2014, with an 84 per cent rise in opioid use between the first quarter of 2014 and the second quarter of 2016.

The SAIT Health Services Clinic received 10 naloxone take-home kits in early 2016. 

“It’s easy to get kits,” said Suing. “Everything is confidential at the clinic. Sometimes students are hesitant to come forward, but we want to reassure [them] that talking to the clinic is confidential.”

“From December 2016, we have prescribed five kits,” said Suing.

“The posters and the TV’s around campus have brought people in.

“The most important thing is to ask a health care provider, there is lots of information out there.”

Fentanyl is an opioid pain medicine that is used as anesthetic to relieve extreme pain. The drug can be medically administered as a skin patch, buccal tablet or injection; however, it has become a popular and addictive recreational drug.

Naloxone is a drug that can be injected to temporarily reverse fentanyl and other opioid overdoses, giving patients more time to get emergency medical help. 

In 2015, Alberta experienced 257 fentanyl-related overdose deaths. 2014 saw 117 deaths, 2013 saw 66 deaths, 2012 saw 29 deaths, and 2011 saw 6 deaths. 

In Calgary between January and September 2016, the city experienced 193 suspected fentanyl overdose deaths, based on numbers provided by AHS. 

Naloxone take-home kits are being introduced to aid in potentially lowering these numbers.

“The naloxone kits are great, but it’s like fighting a fire from behind,” said Matt Brewer, a SAIT student in his first year of academic upgrading.

“The kits are just there to put out the hot spots. [Fentanyl] is like a wildfire. It just grows.”

Brewer’s daughter has battled opioid addiction. His daughter has overdosed twice and they had to use a naloxone kit to revive her. 

Brewer said his daughter entered the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre, where he was able to learn more about fentanyl and the use of naloxone. 

“The risk of overdose is so high it’s insane,” said Brewer. “[Using Fentanyl] is random, like playing Russian Roulette.” 

Brewer was concerned about the availability of the street drug, because it’s cheap to produce and hard
to control. 

“[Naloxone] is a great revival tool, but Alberta Health needs to put more money into the treatment of addiction, rather than treatment of overdose.”

“The disease of addictions needs to be fought head on,” he said.

On Oct. 27, 2016, the provincial government announced that tools were going to be implemented to help address the overdoses and deaths that have occurred in relation to fentanyl and other opioids. 

“It’s affecting all ages, it’s not just a thing for 22-year-olds,” said Eric Widdis, a first-year SAIT student in electrical engineering technology.

Alberta Health has offered a $3 million grant to AHS to improve and implement an opioid dependency expansion project. 

Areas of priority in preventing fentanyl and opioid overdoses included the spread of Naloxone kits.

Starting in February 2016, take-home naloxone kits have been made available by the government, free of charge. The take-home kits are administered through an AHS program and are available without a prescription at most pharmacies. 

Outside of the take-home kits available at pharmacies, naloxone must be prescribed by registered nurses, psychiatric nurses or physicians.

First responders can administer the life saving drug if they have received the required training of a regulated health professional.

According to Alberta Health services, there are nearly 900 AHS registered sites that are available to distribute take-home naloxone kits.

If you are concerned about your own or someone else’s use of fentanyl or other drugs, help is available. Call Health Link 811 for advice and information. The SAIT’s Health Services Clinic, located in R41 of the Senator Burns building, can provide naloxone kits and further information on opioid use.

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