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Drug stores now have a kit that can save you from an opioid overdose

One pharmacist says she has already seen repeat customers

Life-saving naloxone, a medication known to stop overdose from opioids, is in Guelph. And it’s free.

The Guelph Pharmacist Association wants area residents to know that local pharmacies have naloxone kits in stock. Anyone who uses opioids (opium-based drugs) for whatever reason, or is a caregiver to someone using opioids, is encouraged to have a kit on hand in case of overdose.

Overdoses happen among recreational drug users, but can also happen accidentally as a result of mistakes made by those taking or administering opioids for legitimate reasons.

All that’s required to get a kit is an Ontario Heath card. Those without an OHIP card will be directed by a pharmacist to another source where naloxone is available.

The kits come with two doses of naloxone, a pair of hypodermic needles, and instructions for use.

“It only works for opiates,” said association chair Lisa MacEachern, a Guelph pharmacist. A timely injection of naloxone, an opioid antidote, can reverse the overdose and save a life, she indicated. Injections can be made directly through clothing.

“It takes the opiate off the receptor in the brain that it sits on, that makes you high,” she said, explaining the effects of naloxone. “If there is too much of the opiate it can also suppresses your breathing.”

Naloxone is a stronger binder to that specific receptor. It “knocks off” the opiate and blocks it.

“It allows you to regain consciousness and breathe again,” she said.  

Opioid use and misuse is common in Guelph, as it is elsewhere in the province, she said. Even those using it to suppress pain from cancer or surgery can run into problems when using it.

“Anybody who is on an opiate should have one of these kits,” she said, adding that Ontarians have access to an unlimited number of the kits.

It is clear that they are being used in Guelph, an indication that opioid overdose is happening here.

“They will come in for the initial kit, and we tell them if they use it to come back in for another one,” said MacEachern, a pharmacist at Pharmasave. “We’ve given out about 100 and replaced about 40, which means they’ve used them.”

She added that paramedics are using naloxone frequently on patients who have overdosed.     

In response to a mounting opioid crisis in the province, in which overdoses have increased significantly, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care announced last June that pharmacists could provide naloxone free and without a prescription across the province.

MacEachern said distribution of the kits has been fairly slow due to a lack of public awareness. She said when the government announced the availability of naloxene it was done quite suddenly.

“It came as a surprise,” she said. “We have made a concerted effort to get pharmacies onboard in Guelph. We’ve done a training seminar, and we’ve tried to make sure everyone has kits available.”