Naloxone, a drug that helps reverse an opioid overdose, is now available for free to individuals using opioids and seeking care in the emergency department (ED) at St. Joseph's Health Centre in Toronto. Naloxone will also be available this fall at the St. Michael's Hospital ED.
"We send an explicit message to our patients and their friends, family and contacts when we hand them naloxone kits upon discharge - we're telling them this is a dangerous condition and one that can represent repetitive behaviour," says Dr. Glen Bandiera, who recently wrapped his term as Chief of Emergency Department Services at St. Michael's.
"We will emphasize that there are treatments available, but also that until they access successful addictions treatment, we want to prevent death by overdose."
A large majority of opioid overdoses seen in EDs are from using street drugs.
"We know addiction issues are seen across all socioeconomic status groups," says Paula Podolski, administrative director for St. Joseph's ED.
"Many who struggle with addictions are either not aware of resources available, or may require multiple attempts to engage them in recovery before they are ready to take the first step."
Substance use treatment is multifaceted: it includes medication, pharmacological support, medical support, and psychosocial support.
If naloxone is administered as soon as an individual shows signs of an opioid overdose, it can temporarily reverse the opioid's effects. But emergency medical attention is still needed and it's essential that a call is also made to 911 immediately.