Thinking differently about substance abuse

The naloxone program puts life-saving training and tools in the hands of the community members who need it the most.

Naloxone is an emergency medication that temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.  The Naloxone Program was launched in July to train people in our community to respond to opioid (examples are fentanyl, oxycodone, heroin) overdoses by administering basic first aid and naloxone. Such programs across Canada and the world have saved tens of thousands of lives.

Henry Eastabrook, an outreach/advocate worker at the Health Centre, is one of the staff who train Health Centre clients to save lives using naloxone. “At first I’d ask people who are at risk of opioid overdose if they had heard about our naloxone program, and often they didn’t know what I was talking about. Within a month, many members of the community knew about it and understood the value of the training, and they started signing up.” Even with the initial slow response, the program is running well and there are now nearly 40 individuals across the city who are trained to administer naloxone in opioid overdose situations. In the last three months, our trainees have saved the lives of two opioid overdose victims. They are alive because of naloxone and the training, courage and commitment of everyone involved with the program.

The next challenge is capacity. There are more people who want to be trained than there are trainers and time to do the training. Henry hopes that the program can expand after the next review with all of the stakeholders. “There are thousands of people who take opioids in the city, and the best case scenario is that they are all trained on how to administer naloxone. Traditionally, in the absence of the naloxone training, people fall back on crazy home remedies, like throwing someone in a cold shower or injecting orange juice into their veins. That might shock someone who’s still alive into responsiveness, but it doesn’t do anything at all for someone dying of an overdose.”

There’s another reason that the naloxone program is important. It changes the way people see themselves. “Over the long-term, people who are trained think differently about their substance use. They see themselves in a more positive light. They may take opioids less, and some stop entirely. It makes all the people in our community healthier.”