One drug in Canada is off the prescription list, and many are happy. This may save more lives from a possibly lethal opioid overdose.
In a bold move, Health Canada announced on March 22 that it is officially delisting naloxone, which means it may be obtained outside emergency departments and over the counter.
Naloxone is a popular antidote against overdose of opioids such as fentanyl, an analgesic and sedative more powerful than morphine. The abuse of this drug is responsible for more than 600 deaths between 2009 and 2014, according to Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Naloxone works by blocking or reversing the life-threatening side effects of taking too much opioid such as slow breathing and drowsiness within two to five minutes.
The delisting came after a consultation by Health Canada last January, which received 130 responses from different health care providers and organizations as well as individuals with no known affiliation.
The consultation also generated other recommendations like the introduction of a nasal spray that may be more user friendly than the injectable form, which is the one currently available. Needles and syringes may be "a little off-putting to some people," said Dr Seonaid Nolan, a research scientist treating drug addicts in St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver.
However, even when it is injectable, the benefits of naloxone still outweigh the risks, said Health Canada.
The participants also stressed the importance of adequate training of administrators, which Health Canada strongly agreed. The task may be undertaken by the pharmacists, although teaching administrators may be time-consuming for them. Perhaps Health Canada can follow the trainings administered by take-home program distributors, which lauded their huge success in reversing opioid overdose.
Despite this huge step in reducing the incidence of opioid overdose in Canada, delisting is not enough. "There's also the need for ongoing addiction care, so these individuals who are using opiates still need to be seen for their underlying addiction and receive long-term treatment and management," added Nolan.
In the meantime, provinces are now taking the necessary steps to take advantage of the delistment with Alberta promising it shall happen in the "next couple months."