Saving lives, one naloxone shot at a time

October 28, 2016
Tamara Barnett knows what it’s like to lose a client to overdose. But the Island Health Street Outreach Nurse also knows what it’s like to save someone from an overdose.

And she’s done it 35 times – with naloxone.    

“I have administered naloxone to 35 people    
who were overdosing and every single
person survived,” said Barnett, who also
works part-time at Cool Aid Community

Health Centre. “It is just amazing to watch a
patient go from being blue and unconscious
back to breathing and awake, by the time the
paramedics arrive.”

Naloxone saves lives. It’s that simple.

“Naloxone remains a key intervention in
reducing the number of fatalities associated
with opioid overdoses,” said Health Minister
Terry Lake. “Tragically, too many people are
still dying from overdoses, but lives are also
being saved due to the extraordinary efforts
of our front-line health care professionals,
and the effective use of naloxone.”

And that’s why, over the past year, Island Health has trained more than 600 staff members at nearly 60 sites across the island on how to administer naloxone, a life-saving opioid overdose anti-dote.

Griffin Russell is Regional Harm Reduction Coordinator at Island Health, and in charge of training Island Health staff as part of the Take Home Naloxone program.

“We have recently completed training and implementation in all emergency and urgent care departments on Vancouver Island,” he said. “This accomplishment is in addition to having already implemented the program in all public health units and the majority of mental health and substance use offices.”

In the past 12 months, Island Health and its partners have distributed 2,350 Take Home Naloxone kits across the island this year, compared to 555 kits last year.

“That’s an increase of 500 percent,” Russell said. “We absolutely know for certain that lives have been saved as a result. It’s a credit to our employees, and the support of our leadership to make this a priority.”

Russell says education on the importance of overdose prevention strategies, the signs and symptoms of overdoses, and the SAVE-ME response are essential components to the Take Home Naloxone program.

As a street nurse, Barnett actually got her training three years ago, and since then has herself trained hundreds of clients, friends and family of those who use drugs.

“It has been extremely difficult watching my patients die, and then having to comfort those who loved them,” she said. “It is critical to have naloxone available to the front-line staff, but more importantly, to people who use drugs, and their friends and family members who are worried about them. With the Take Home Naloxone program we are now able to provide education on how to use naloxone, and we are able to give naloxone kits to people who need this life-saving drug the most.”

On July 27, 2016, Premier Christy Clark announced a new Joint Task Force on Overdose Prevention and Response. Headed by Dr. Perry Kendall, Provincial Health Officer, and Clayton Pecknold, Director of Police Services, the task force is providing expert leadership and advice to government on additional actions to strengthen the provincial response. The actions being taken under the task force support the ongoing work to support and treat British Columbians with substance use issues.

This includes working with the federal government on additional supervised consumption services, strengthening B.C.’s opioid substitution treatment system, collecting more robust and real-time information on overdoses and establishing a testing service to help people find out if their drugs contain adulterants.

Since the task force was announced, government launched the first phase of a provincial overdose awareness campaign and website to increase awareness on how to prevent, identify and respond to overdoses, and the BC Centre for Disease Control has significantly expanded the Take Home Naloxone program, including on Vancouver Island. As part of the work to address problematic substance use, the province is on track to meet its commitment to open 500 new addiction beds, and will meet that goal in 2017.

For more information about naloxone, please visit www.towardtheheart.com/naloxone 

South Island media inquiries:
Kellie Hudson
Media Relations Manager

Central and North Island media inquiries:
Valerie Wilson
Director, Communications & Engagement