Fentanyl and the take-home naloxone program
Alberta’s fentanyl response
Alberta Health is working closely with Alberta Health Services and our government and community partners to take action on the misuse of fentanyl and other opioids, and to reduce the harms these drugs are causing in our communities. Our actions are focused on 4 main areas:
- education and awareness
- harm reduction (that is, take-home naloxone)
- law enforcement
To support these actions, the Alberta government created a Fentanyl Response Team, including health professionals, service providers, law enforcement agencies, municipal representatives, and members from First Nations and Metis representative organizations.
This team is now part of the Valuing Mental Health Advisory committee. Team members continue to focus on Alberta’s fentanyl response, while also taking on the broader mandate of supporting the implementation of Valuing Mental Health: Report of the Alberta Mental Health Review Committee.
Alberta, like many provinces, has seen a rapid rise in fentanyl-related overdose deaths over the past few years.
Over the first 3 months of 2016 (from January 1 to March 31), there were 69 fentanyl-related deaths in the province. This is roughly consistent with the first 3 months of 2015, during which 77 fentanyl-related deaths were reported.
In 2015 overall, there were 274 overdose deaths in Alberta in which fentanyl was detected, up significantly from previous years:
- 120 in 2014
- 66 in 2013
- 29 in 2012
- 6 in 2011
This rise in fentanyl overdoses is part of a pattern that has been seen across Canada. The Canadian Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use has tracked this pattern in a bulletin from August 2015: Deaths Involving Fentanyl in Canada, 2009–2014.
Fentanyl is affecting Albertans from all walks of life and all age groups. Albertans age 20–39 have been most deeply impacted by the drug. If you are concerned about your own or someone else’s use of fentanyl or other drugs, help is available. Please call Health Link 811 for advice and information.
Alberta Health and our partners have taken a number of actions aimed at slowing the impact of illicit fentanyl in the province.
- In May 2016, Alberta became the second province in Canada to provide naloxone to residents without prescription. Albertans at risk and people with a close relationship to those individuals can now go to their local pharmacy to request naloxone kits free of charge.
- Read news release: Province improves and expands access to naloxone, opioid treatment and counselling May 11, 2016
Since December 2015 we have:
- tripled the province’s supply of naloxone kits, from 3,000 to 9,000
- increased naloxone distribution sites to more than 700 locations, including more than 580 community pharmacies and more than 65 walk-in clinics
- locations are listed at www.drugsfool.ca
- authorized pharmacies to provide naloxone free-of-charge to Albertans with a valid prescription
- authorized EMTs and EMRs to administer naloxone and
- authorized Registered Nurses and Registered Psychiatric nurses to prescribe naloxone
Alberta Health Services is raising awareness of the dangers of illicit fentanyl through drugsfool.ca and targeted online, transit and poster advertising.
Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services continue to work in cooperation with Health Canada and First Nations communities in Alberta to ensure there is adequate access to naloxone for First Nations people both on and off reserve.
Harm reduction agencies
In summer 2015, Alberta Health provided a $300,000 grant to the Alberta Community Council on HIV to coordinate naloxone distribution through seven harm-reduction agencies across Alberta.
Since summer 2015, harm-reduction agencies have been distributing take-home naloxone kits to Albertans at the following locations:
- Medicine Hat – HIV Community Link
- Lethbridge – Lethbridge HIV Connection
- Calgary – Safeworks (AHS)
- Red Deer – Central Alberta AIDS Network
- Edmonton – Streetworks Edmonton
- Grande Prairie – HIV North Society
- Fort McMurray – HIV North Society
- Edson – HIV West Yellowhead
Between Alberta Health Services, community pharmacies and harm-reduction agencies, as of May 5, 2016, more than 2,000 naloxone kits had been distributed to Albertans.
Mental Health Review
In November, the Alberta government received recommendations from Alberta’s Mental Health Review Committee related to reducing the harms caused by illicit fentanyl.
The review committee’s final report was released in February. Recommendations from the mental health review will continue to inform our actions related to fentanyl and other addiction and substance use issues in the province.
Related news releases and information
- Government news releases:
- Province improves and expands access to naloxone, opioid treatment and counselling May 11, 2016
- Alberta Health increases access to kits that reverse fentanyl overdoses February 17, 2016
- Alberta expands access to life-saving naloxone December 11, 2015
- Alberta Health Services news:
- Ministerial Orders:
Expanding access to treatment for people who are struggling with opioid dependency is a priority for Alberta Health and our partners.
There are currently 9 specialty clinics in Alberta that provide treatment to people with opioid dependency, including fentanyl.
Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services are working together to expand treatment options, including:
- opening new treatment clinics
- expanding access to support services such as counselling, and
- improving access to substitution therapy using methadone or suboxone
To facilitate these efforts, Alberta Health recently provided a $3 million grant to Alberta Health Services to implement an opioid dependency expansion project. Additional details on this project will be available soon.
Additional information and resources
Alberta Health Services has a number of resources on fentanyl for Albertans, families and health professionals.
Information for patients and families
- Information about fentanyl, and where to get naloxone kits & more
- Help Prevent Drug Use in Kids (Blog post)
- Talking to Your Kids About Drugs (Blog post)
- Talk to Your Kids About Drugs and Alcohol (Podcast)
- One Bad Pill: A Mother’s Story of Her Tragic Loss (Blog post)