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At-home naloxone kits have reversed over 50K opioid overdoses in B.C.: health authority

WATCH: The B.C. Centre for Disease Control says 50,000 overdose deaths have been prevented thanks to naloxone kits handed out to residents, businesses and public places. Today's edition of Health Matters is brought to you by Pharmasave.

As overdose deaths begin to fall in B.C., the provincial health authority is highlighting the impact naloxone is having on curbing the death toll.

As of Oct. 15, more than 50,000 take-home naloxone kits have reportedly been used to save a life from a fatal opioid overdose throughout B.C., according to the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA).

Those kits are among 175,022 distributed for free by the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) to drug users and people in the community likely to witness an overdose since 2012.

READ MORE: Illicit drug deaths: Latest stats show small B.C. communities also impacted by opioid crisis

”Every free naloxone kit distributed in B.C. is a statement that we are committed as neighbours, as a community, as a province, to saving lives,” Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, said in a statement Friday.

“We know that people need to be alive to find their own unique pathway to healing and hope and this announcement tells people using drugs loud and clear that we want them to live.”

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The BCCDC’s Take Home Naloxone program has seen a dramatic spike in kit handouts since 2016, when B.C. declared a public health emergency in response to a rise in drug overdoses.

With Canada’s opioid crisis, lives can be saved with one of these
With Canada’s opioid crisis, lives can be saved with one of these

According to the BC Coroners Service, 993 people died of illicit drug overdoses in 2016. In 2017, that number jumped by nearly 50 per cent to 1,487. In 2018, overdoses claimed 1,489 lives in B.C.

Since 2016, the BCCDC program handed out 169,949 naloxone kits. Only 5,073 were distributed between 2012 and the end of 2015.

The kits are available at 1,678 active distribution sites, including more than 700 community pharmacies across the province. The BCCDC says it ships between 17,000 and 19,000 kits to those sites every month.

A full list of where naloxone kits are distributed can be found here.

READ MORE: As overdose deaths slow, Vancouver pilot project looks ahead to treatment

“I’m proud of our partners and community members for their dedication and working quickly and creatively to get this life-saving medication into the hands of people who need it,” said Dr. Jane Buxton, the BCCDC’s harm reduction lead.

The latest overdose numbers from the BC Coroners Service found 79 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths in August 2019. That’s a 37 per cent decrease from the 125 deaths in August of 2018, but a 13 per cent increase from the 70 deaths in July of 2019.

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The August numbers average out to 2.5 deaths a day, down from the roughly three deaths per day the province has seen for a majority of 2019.

Municipalities convention talks overdose crisis
Municipalities convention talks overdose crisis

For the first eight months of 2019, there were 690 deaths — a 33 per cent decrease from 1,037 deaths in the first eight months of 2018.

Buxton also called for a safe drug supply to further curb overdoses, a suggestion that has been gaining momentum in B.C.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, Vancouver Coastal Health’s chief medical health officer Dr. Patricia Daly and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry have all called for a safe drug supply.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said his government will not consider that step.