Naloxone Pilot Projects Launched in Nova Scotia!


As we reported late last fall, Direction 180 and Mainline Needle Exchange had received word of their successful funding application to the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness for a one-year demonstration project, titled “Take Home Naloxone Program.” We are now very pleased to report that the overdose prevention initiative is well underway, and that a similar demonstration project is being conducted by the Ally Centre in Cape Breton, which has the highest incidence of overdoses per capita in the province. Front-line staff and opioid users have been trained, and naloxone kits are in distribution. A total of 600 naloxone kits will be distributed in the Halifax area and in Cape Breton. What a welcome addition to Nova Scotia’s harm reduction landscape!

Within the past two weeks, groups of drug users in Halifax and Cape Breton began being trained on how to administer naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an overdose from opioids such oxycontin, morphine, heroin, and fentanyl. They also received instruction on how to identify signs of an overdose and factors that increase the risk of death. All participants received a kit including two vials of naloxone, rubber gloves, syringes, instructions, and a prescription card. Not previously available anywhere in Atlantic Canada—except through paramedics and emergency rooms—naloxone is an antidote that will no doubt reduce the incidence of death, disability, and injury from opioid overdoses among Nova Scotia’s drug users.

It is estimated that 12,000 people are dependent on opioids in Nova Scotia and less than 2000 are receiving opioid replacement therapy. The office of the Medical Examiner in Nova Scotia reported 342 fatal prescription overdose deaths between 2007- 2014 from hydromorphone, methadone, oxycodone, morphine, codeine and fentanyl. The number of non-fatal overdose incidences is unknown.

As mentioned in our previous blogpost, Nova Scotia’s harm reduction landscape is relatively conservative compared to Canada’s larger centres. There are no supervised injection or smoking sites in the province, for example, or access to community detox, thereby increasing the vulnerability of drug users. Access to community-based low threshold methadone treatment programs is non-existent beyond the Halifax area in mainland Nova Scotia or anywhere in Cape Breton. Drug users have commonly been in conflict with the law, which also adds to their vulnerability for a fatal overdose. As explained by Cindy MacIsaac, Director of Direction 180, clients often hesitate to call 911 to report an overdose for fear of being arrested when the police arrive. The naloxone kits will enable drug users to intervene immediately when an overdose occurs.

Early reports from the Halifax area’s Naloxone Project team indicate that the initiative is going very well thus far. Since mid-February, they have trained community members and dispensed 30 naloxone kits. “By giving people who use opioids training and the tools to respond to overdose, we are also sending a message that their lives matter, and I think that is so important for people who use drugs to hear,” says MacIsaac. They have also educated and trained a total of 29 front-line staff members from various organizations working with Halifax’s most vulnerable populations. Community training sessions are provided three times a week at Direction 180, and is available to anyone who is actively using opioids or has a history of doing so. Feedback from participants has been very positive, highlighting the quality of the education and training, as well as the need in the community.

AIRN would like to congratulate Direction 180, Mainline Needle Exchange, and the Ally Centre for continuing to be on the forefront of Nova Scotia’s harm reduction efforts.

* Note: Mainline Needle Exchange and the Ally Centre’s Sharp Advice Needle Exchange (S.A.N.E.) are the only needle distribution programs in Nova Scotia; Direction 180 is the only low-threshold community-based methadone program in the province; AIRN has been involved as a member of the advisory committee of the Halifax-based naloxone project.


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