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:

  1. education and awareness
  2. harm reduction (that is, take-home naloxone)
  3. law enforcement
  4. treatment

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.

Fentanyl’s impact

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.

Actions

Alberta Health and our partners have taken a number of actions aimed at slowing the impact of illicit fentanyl in the province.

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
  • 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 PDF icon 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

Treatment

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 and resources for health care professionals