HEALTH

College of Pharmacists of BC remove all barriers to sale of naloxone

BY Michael Johnsen

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The College of Pharmacists of BC on Wednesday switched naloxone, the life-saving drug used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, from a Schedule II drug to one that is unscheduled and widely accessible.

As such, naloxone is now available outside of pharmacies.

"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," stated Bob Nakagawa, registrar College of Pharmacists of BC. "This amendment to the BC Drug Schedules Regulation makes BC the first province in [Canada] to deregulate and unschedule emergency use naloxone. This will save lives."

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 Sept. 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," Canada Health Minister Terry Lake said. "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."  

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 are successfully providing information and training on how to use naloxone.
 

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