VANCOUVER, Sept. 21, 2016 /CNW/ - Naloxone, the life-saving drug used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, is now available outside of pharmacies. The College of Pharmacists of BC changed the status of emergency use naloxone (non-hospital use) from a Schedule II drug to one that is unscheduled and widely accessible. This means that emergency use naloxone can be available anywhere and purchased by anyone.
"Given the current public health emergency and increasing numbers of fatal opioid overdoses, the College feels compelled to do whatever we can to make this life-saving antidote available to whomever needs it. This amendment to the BC Drug Schedules Regulation makes BC the first province in the country to deregulate and unschedule emergency use naloxone. This will save lives."
– Bob Nakagawa, Registrar, College of Pharmacists of BC
Recent changes had already made emergency use naloxone available in BC without a prescription. On March 22, 2016, in response to the significant increase in opioid-related deaths, Health Canada made changes that allowed for emergency use naloxone to be available without a prescription. In BC, the College Board approved the change (to Schedule II) in hopes of increasing access to this life-saving drug. Having naloxone classified as Schedule II and behind the counter ensured pharmacists had the opportunity to provide purchasers with important training on how to administer the drug.
Since then, the number of opioid-related deaths has continued to rise. In April 2016, the BC Provincial Health Officer declared the crisis a public health emergency. After further consideration, on September 16, 2016 the College Board removed emergency use naloxone from the Drug Schedules Regulation to ensure there are no regulatory barriers to access the drug.
"We are in the midst of an overdose crisis in BC and making naloxone easier for people to get will help to save lives. The College made this decision after consultations with the Ministry of Health, BC Centre for Disease Control and patient advocacy groups, and
this will go a long way to help people gain easier access to a potentially life-saving treatment."
– Terry Lake, Health Minister
The benefit of greater accessibility clearly outweighs any real or perceived risks associated with having naloxone available outside of pharmacies. In particular, removing emergency use naloxone from the Drug Schedules Regulation will make it easier for other public health organizations to help distribute the drug (often in take home kits) to friends and family of those who may find themselves in an emergency overdose situation.
The College would like to emphasize that training is still important. Anyone administering naloxone needs to know to call 911 right away and be aware that naloxone may bring on symptoms of withdrawal. It also wears off after 30-75 minutes which means an overdose can return. The College provided educational sessions to pharmacists in April 2016 in order for them to provide information and training in the pharmacy, however other organizations such as the BC Centre for Disease Control (with the Toward the Heart program) are successfully providing information and training on how to use naloxone.
"This move by the College of Pharmacists of BC is a welcome addition in the fight against opioid overdose deaths. BC has already seen hundreds of preventable deaths this year from illicit drugs. Naloxone is a life saver, but it needs to be in the right hands at the right time and we welcome increasing its availability in the community."
– Jane Buxton, Physician Epidemiologist and Harm Reduction Lead, BC Centre for Disease Control
"The BC Association of People on Methadone agrees that non-prescription naloxone should be made available outside of pharmacies to help make it more accessible to the public. We believe that this is one good measure to help combat the flood of illicit fentanyl in BC. With this change, we hope more public health organizations will distribute naloxone, especially for those who cannot afford to purchase the drug. Other measures will still be needed to address the opioid overdose crisis, including more treatment and detox beds, recovery house and sober living accommodation. We also hope that the Toward the Heart campaign, and those like it, will continue to be at the forefront in combating this crisis."
– Al Fowler, President, BC Association of People on Methadone
It is clear that the benefit of quickly responding to an overdose far outweighs any risks that might come from lack of training and education. As a result, the College believes it is in the best interest of public safety to unschedule non-prescription emergency use naloxone, allowing it to be sold outside of pharmacies.
SOURCE College of Pharmacists of British Columbia
For further information: Gillian Vrooman, Director of Communications and Engagement, College of Pharmacists of BC, firstname.lastname@example.org, @bcpharmacists