Skip to main content
Home » Advocacy » BC Bears Brunt of Opioid Crisis, But With Limited Access to the Best Defense Against It
Substance Use Awareness

BC Bears Brunt of Opioid Crisis, But With Limited Access to the Best Defense Against It

Man with many pill bottles
Man with many pill bottles

Mark Barnes

Pharmacist, Ottawa Overdose Prevention & Response Task Force

The opioid epidemic is a national emergency, but not every corner of the country is affected equally. Data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information shows that the rate of opioid poisoning hospitalizations in British Columbia is the second highest of any province or territory, trailing only Saskatchewan — nearly double the rates seen in Ontario and Quebec. The city of Vancouver specifically has more opioid-related hospitalizations than any other municipality in the country.

The severity and scope of the opioid crisis, especially in Western Canada, can’t be overstated. In recent years, more people have been rushed to the hospital due to opioid poisoning than car crashes. And, among illicit drug users, the dangers of accidental overdose are growing rapidly as stronger opioids like fentanyl become more popular and available. 

Infographic: What to do when you suspect an opioid overdose

Though street-drug users remain an important and vulnerable population, some of the highest rates of opioid poisoning are actually found among seniors, many of whom are taking legitimately-prescribed opioids. “People still think of opioid abuse as a problem that primarily affects homeless people on the street injecting fentanyl or heroin,” says pharmacist Mark Barnes, who serves on the Overdose Task Force with Ottawa Public Health. “That’s not the case. Anyone who has a prescription or access to opioids in the home has an increased risk of overdose.”

Be prepared to act

Unfortunately, persistent stigmas surrounding addiction and overdose have left too many British Columbians unaware of their risks and unprepared for the possibility of an overdose. It’s not only possible, but also easy, to be prepared. Naloxone is available in both injectable and nasal spray forms, and it’s capable of temporarily reversing the effects of an opioid overdose. In Ontario, where NARCAN naloxone nasal spray has been made freely available at pharmacies, the results have been significant. 

“The stats have shown that 4% of naloxone kits dispensed are actually used,” says Barnes. “So, when we distribute 25,000 kits, that means a thousand lives are potentially being saved. Everyone who is around people at risk of drug use, including anyone who is regularly around large crowds of people, should be carrying a NARCAN kit. The nasal spray is so non-invasive. It’s basically an EpiPen for opioid overdose. And it’s safe.”

Delivery method matters

In British Columbia, currently only the injectable form of naloxone is readily available. Though more complicated than the nasal spray, it is still capable of reversing the effects of opioid overdoses. “The risks of administering naloxone incorrectly are higher with the injectable form,” says Barnes. “It’s a little more complicated and time consuming. But, if the injectable kits are all that’s available, you should absolutely carry one.”

The hope is that, as governments nationwide work towards combatting opioid overdoses, the availability of naloxone nasal spray will expand, especially in jurisdictions like Vancouver which are bearing the brunt of the crisis. “Every level of government across the country is committed to battling the opioid crisis and, fortunately, they are actively listening to recommendations from health professionals,” says Barnes. “As health professionals, what we are telling them is that NARCAN is an absolute lifesaver.”

This article was made possible with support from ADAPT Pharma Canada Ltd.

Next article