Health Canada plans changes to allow easier access to overdose drug
An educational pamphlet and samples of naloxone, a drug used to counter the effects of opiate overdose, are displayed on Monday, Feb. 24, 2014 . (AP / Elise Amendola)
Health Canada has announced plans to fast-track the process to change the prescription status of a drug that can reverse drug overdoses.
The change should allow those at risk of an accidental drug overdose to have easier access to naloxone, a, injectable drug that can stop the effects of an opioid overdose within minutes.
“Health Canada has put forward an amendment to the prescription drug list to allow non-prescription use of naloxone specifically for emergency use for opioid overdose outside hospital settings,” the agency said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
It’s a move many health-care advocates and first-line responders have been urging for some time, given a growing number of overdoses caused by fentanyl, heroin, and synthetic street drugs.
Naloxone is currently only available by prescription, but a number of provinces and cities have started programs in which they hand out kits containing the drug and syringes to opioid users or their families.
Health Canada says, if the drug’s status is changed to allow non-prescription use, those who could potentially administer the drug would still need to be trained in its use, in much the way that those with serious food allergies need training to use epinephrine auto-injectors. As well, the drug’s labelling would need to be changed.
“A public consultation seeking views on this proposal has been launched,” Health Canada said, noting it always holds such consultations whenever a change to a drug’s prescription status is proposed.
Some provinces have already expanded the availability of naloxone through community-based take-home programs. Others have undertaken regulatory changes to allow use by first responders.
Health Canada said it wants to determine whether naloxone can be used safely outside the supervision of a health-care practitioner before it changes the drug’s prescription status.
Canadians are encouraged to provide comments on the proposal until March 19, 2016.
If the change in status is approved, Health Canada says it will waive the usual six-month implementation period, so that “the change in status can occur as quickly as possible.”
Health Canada adds that it remains concerned about the growing number of opioid overdoses and deaths occurring across Canada, and will continue working with the provinces and territories and other stakeholders to address this issue as well.