The British Columbia Funeral Association sent a bulletin to its members in November recommending funeral directors carry naloxone due to the incredible potency of opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil, marking another dark chapter in Canada’s growing opioid crisis.
Charlotte Poncelet, executive director of the British Columbia Funeral Association, said the risk for staff at funeral homes to come into contact with fentanyl is “very, very low” but said the statement was sent to members out of an abundance of caution.
“Having a naloxone kit on hand isn’t something you have to do, but it is a best practice,” Poncelet told Global News. “Any time there is a risk you want to mitigate it. And you want to make sure that people aren’t afraid.”
WATCH: Fentanyl deaths spread across Canada
Poncelet said there is a risk that embalmers who treat the bodies of drug overdose victims could encounter a trace amount of a potentially fatal drug on the personal items of the deceased.
“It’s about anticipating any kind of problem that may arise and making sure we are prepared,” she said.
Dr. David Juurlink, head of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, said it’s a good idea for funeral parlours to carry naloxone kits in case of an overdose among those attending a memorial service.
“People who die of opioid overdoses often have a community of friends and social contacts who are using opioids and could easily have an overdose,” Juurlink said.
WATCH: Carfentanil detected in provinces across Canada
The opioid crisis has hit B.C. hard this year as 622 people died of overdoses of illicit drugs in the first 10 months of 2016. Roughly 60 per cent are linked to fentanyl – an opioid that can be up to 100 times more toxic than morphine. In April, British Columbia’s health officer declared a public health emergency due to the alarming increase in drug-related overdoses and deaths.
Medical experts have also been sounding the alarm over the emergence of carfentanil, which has been detected in several provinces and linked to at least 15 deaths in Alberta. The drug can be up to 100 times more lethal than fentanyl and just 20 micrograms, the equivalent of a single grain of salt, could be enough to kill a person.
WATCH: RCMP officers share their story of fentanyl exposure
Naloxone can reverse the effects of a fentanyl overdose by blocking opiate receptors in the brain. In response to the opioid crisis, several provinces have rushed to put thousands of naloxone kits in the hands of first responders – like police and firefighters – and frontline workers at hospitals, jails and health clinics.
Earlier this year, Health Canada approved naloxone nasal spray for non-prescription use to help prevent deaths from opioid overdoses.
The dangers of fentanyl exposure have affected frontline workers in the battle against opioids.
In September, RCMP officers in B.C. spoke with Global News about nearly overdosing on fentanyl after coming into contact with the deadly drug while on the job.
“It takes a second for you to be exposed,” said Cnst. Dawn Adams with Kelowna RCMP. “And another second for you to die. And we all want to go home at the end of the day.”
The federal government announced earlier this week it is making it easier for provinces to set up supervised drug injection sites while also cracking down on illicit shipments of fentanyl to combat the surge of opioid overdose deaths.
– With files from Catherine Urquhart