Alberta’s associate minister of mental health and addictions is reiterating his support for naloxone kits after hearing from parents concerned the opioid-reversing drug could enable their children towards more substance abuse.
On Friday, Jason Luan met with families affected by substance abuse at a roundtable in Calgary to hear their stories and experiences.
Luan later told the media that he heard some parents say their children push the limit with drugs because they know there’s a naloxone kit nearby; naloxone temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.
“It begs the question of how lots of time we are trying to make it easier and wanting to help but there is a fine line. If you cross that line, you become an enabler,” Luan said.
“That’s the first time I heard [about it] so for me, as a policymaker, my thinking is, ‘Wow this is interesting. We have to find the balance.’ It can’t just be one way of thinking of believing we are doing something good and, in fact, it can be utilized in the wrong way.”
Petra Schulz is a co-founder of the organization Moms Stop the Harm, which represents families affected by substance abuse.
Schulz, who lost her son to a fentanyl overdose in 2014, said the minister should have refuted comments about naloxone leading to enabling.
“The minister should say…it concerns me people think that way and we should make sure they are aware of the medical and scientific evidence that shows the contrary is true,” she said.
Schulz said it is concerning some parents think naloxone encourages users to overdose.
“We need more education. That is where the minister and public health officials come in,” she said.
“We need better education for Albertans of what naloxone is designed to do and what it does very well, which is reversing overdoses.”
In a statement Saturday, the associate minister affirmed that the opinions of the parents are not his own.
“My own personal opinion and the opinion of this government is that naloxone does save lives, prevents overdose deaths and is a vital tool in the fight against addiction,” Luan said.
Sam Stordy, 27, struggled with addiction to fentanyl and heroin in the past; he has been sober for more than three years.
Stordy himself has had the effects of an overdose reversed thanks to naloxone.
“It took three naloxone kits from the paramedics to bring me back. I don’t think it’s foolproof. I don’t think it’s the answer,” he said.
“It’s really concerning…just because you have a naloxone kit doesn’t mean you can continue to overdose.”
Stordy said he has seen people “yo yo” with drugs.
“I’ve seen this happen lots. Someone will take a large dose of whether it’s heroin or fentanyl and then immediately hit themselves with a naloxone kit,” he said.
“Typically the people that are using it, the people I hung around with anyway, and myself didn’t have the right information, what this can do and what its limits are. We just hear, ‘This can save me.’”
Stordy said he thinks naloxone enables certain people but not everyone.
“I think it’s obviously crucial paramedics and trained professionals have those on-hand and know how to use them. I also think it’s important to give them to the people actually using drugs,” he said.
Stordy said he is not sure how to change the minds of people who see naloxone as an enabler.
“The root of the problem is addiction. Everything is very reactive. It’s like, naloxone kits, safe consumption kits, it’s all about saving lives or keeping people alive. I think keeping people alive and saving lives can be viewed in different terms,” he said.
Dr. Darren Markland is a critical care physician who has seen the effects of naloxone first-hand.
“Naloxone has been pretty effective from where I sit as a critical care physician in that we’re seeing more people come into hospital after having events and overdoses and we’re able to treat them effectively as a result of it,” he said.
“What naloxone does is, it brings people who would otherwise die and never be seen into the light. So now we’re seeing more of this and it’s perceived as an increase of bad behaviour whereas I don’t think we really have good numbers. We haven’t been doing it long enough to see what our trends are.”
Markland had the following analogy after hearing that some parents think naloxone enables their children to abuse drugs.
“It would be very similar to those same parents saying they should take seatbelts out of their kids’ cars because a lot of young adults drive really quickly, because they’re experimenting and having inherent risk-taking behaviours. Nobody’s going to take seatbelts out of cars,” he said.
Markland said Luan’s comments are relevant.
“[Addiction] is a complex problem and simple solutions aren’t the things that work for this,” he said.
WATCH BELOW: As the opioid crisis continues to impact the lives of many in southern Alberta, proactive safety measures are being taken in Lethbridge to educate the public on what do to if they come across someone who is overdosing. Chris Chacon reports.