EDMONTON- As overdoses from fentanyl claim more and more lives of Albertans, the provincial paramedics’ association has issued a statement of support for the health minister’s plan to make the antidote more widely available.
In a release issued on Wednesday, Roger Tewson, chair of the Alberta Paramedics Association (APA), said his organization backs Health Minister Sarah Hoffman’s strategy of making the antidote, naloxone, more accessible to Albertans.
The association called the issue a “leading public health problem.”
According to Alberta Health Services (AHS), between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2015, 213 Albertans died by overdosing on the opiate, up from over 100 deaths province-wide in 2014.
Of the 213 fatalities in 2015, 55 were recorded in the Edmonton zone.
The NDP government said it has already distributed 3,000 naloxone kits around the province this year and 2,000 more are currently being assembled.
Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said Wednesday she plans to amend the Health Professions Act in order to allow emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to also administer naloxone. Right now, paramedics are the only pre-hospital professionals allowed to administer naloxone to patients but the APA said in other provinces, the drug has also been administered with success by EMTs for years.
Hoffman said the amendment could come before the end of the year.
“We’re well underway with that,” Hoffman said. “There are three pieces that are happening: getting the kits assembled, making sure that the ministerial orders are drafted and that they’re legal and that they’ll be binding, and third is making sure that they have the specific training they need to be able to administer it safely.”
The APA said the more than 4,200 EMTs in the province are already trained to administer drugs through intramuscular and intravenous injection and have enough knowledge of pharmacology and toxicology to do the job.
According to AHS, fentanyl’s potency makes it a particularly lethal opiate. It is about 100 times more toxic than morphine, heroin, or oxycodone.
While speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Hoffman said the fentanyl issue is extremely important to her.
“Seeing how quickly the trend is increasing and how many fatalities and how many serious overdoses are happening over the last year … This is a serious issue for myself and for our office and for our government.”
Fentanyl is a synthetic painkiller primarily used by cancer patients for pain management, but has become a fixture in Alberta’s illicit drug market.
The drug also goes by various street monikers including green beans, beans, green apples, apples, shady eighties, eighties, greenies or fake oxy.
Graphic by Tonia Huynh.
With files from Kendra Slugoski.