A solution to the epidemic of fatal overdoses: an antidote administered by peer helpers

MONTREAL, June 18, 2014 /CNW Telbec/ - Training peer helpers, outreach workers and family members and friends to administer naloxone, a simple-to-use medication used as an antidote for overdoses of opioids, will make it possible to arrest the escalation of severe poisonings and fatal overdoses among drug users in Montreal.

With the support of scientific data and experience gained in similar projects in Vancouver and Toronto, as well as in the United States, the Centre de recherche et d'aide pour narcomanes (Cran), an addiction research and assistance centre, and Méta d'Âme, an association of users and peer helpers, have launched a project known as PRO-FAN (prevention and reduction of overdoses - training on, and access to, naloxone). This pilot project aims to train third parties to come to the assistance of regular or occasional users of opioids who fall victim to an overdose. Known by the brand name NARCAN®, naloxone is an antidote that is used in emergency rooms to reverse the effects of an overdose, in particular respiratory distress and heart failure.

According to Dr. Marie-Ève Goyer, a physician at Cran, it is urgent that we train people who are close to users at risk; these people include peer helpers, family members and the police. At this point in time, even ambulance attendants are not allowed to administer this drug. It is also with some exasperation that Guy Pierre Lévesque, Director General of Méta d'Âme, stresses the need to act quickly to save lives and prevent further victims from succumbing to an overdose.

The Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux has stated that it has asked the Institut national de santé publique du Québec to develop recommendations, by September, regarding the administration of naloxone by peer helpers, an approach that is advocated by the PRO-FAN project, as well as other possible avenues for expanding access to naloxone.

Cran and Méta d'Âme are urging the government to act quickly to put a legal framework in place for the PRO-FAN project, provide funding for the project and make it sustainable. The project committee, consisting of Cran, Méta d'Âme and the Douglas Institute Research Centre, will meet on Thursday, June 19. The public health department of the Agence de la santé et des services sociaux de Montréal will also attend this first meeting.

By way of background on these efforts, here are the latest statistics from the public health department: since May there have been 28 cases of severe poisoning and 15 fatal overdoses—a tally never seen before in such a short period of time in Montreal. The substances that were often involved in the past were illegal opioids. The opioid class includes heroin, morphine, prescription opioids such as hydromorphone (Dilaudid®), oxycodone (OxyContin® or OxyNeo®), and fentanyl, an opioid 40 times more potent than heroin. Fentanyl is often found as an ingredient in synthetic drugs manufactured by clandestine laboratories.

"The administration of naloxone by third parties is not a panacea, but it is clearly an effective solution. It is part of a desire to expand the pharmacopeia in Quebec, which includes substitution treatments using methadone or buprenorphine, but which should also include medical prescriptions for injectable opioids and supervised injection services. These treatments and services are highly productive and cost-effective, and far cheaper than the costs associated with hospital care, legal proceedings and the fight against crime. Furthermore, they serve as a gateway to the healthcare system and encourage social reintegration," points out Dr. Goyer.

SOURCE Centre de recherche et d'aide pour narcomanes (CRAN)

For further information:

Ivanka Stewart-Patterson
Communications Officer, Cran
514 527-6939 ext. 226
ivanka.stewart-patterson.cran@ssss.gouv.qc.ca

Guy Pierre Lévesque
Director General, Méta d'Âme
514 528 -9000
gplevesque@metadame.org