At this point, it should not come as news to anyone that Canada is in the midst of an opioid epidemic. This is a still-growing national crisis that affects Canadians young and old, of all demographics and all walks of life.

Misuse of opioids claimed the lives of over 4,000 Canadians last year. We can no longer hide from this or pretend that this epidemic will not touch us or our loved ones.

Stronger drugs, bigger risks

Of the many types of opioids used in Canada — both medically and illegally as recreational drugs — the most common one in the opioid crisis is undoubtedly fentanyl. With a rapid onset and a strength around 100 times that of morphine, fentanyl and fentanyl-analogues are now implicated in 73 percent of accidental apparent opioid-related deaths according to Health Canada, up from 54 percent just two years ago.

Fentanyl’s incredible effectiveness — it’s on the World Health Organization List of Essential Medicines — means that the solution must be more nuanced than simply banning its use as too many would suffer from its absence on the market. “Fentanyl is a fantastic analgesic,” says Pierre Poirier, Executive Director of the Paramedic Association of Canada. “Unfortunately, misuse of the drug is killing people and destroying families.”

One extremely effective tool for use in this plan is naloxone, a medication that counteracts the life-threatening effects of opioid overdose. “Naloxone competitively binds to the same neurologic receptors as fentanyl, thus inhibiting the negative effects,” explains Poirier. “Early on in the epidemic, naloxone administration was extended to all paramedics as part of their treatment regimen. More recently, paramedics have increased the amount of naloxone carried in their kits.”

How you can help

Because an opioid overdose can progress very quickly to life-threatening situations, it is important that naloxone is administered as soon as possible, and oftentimes there may not be time for paramedics to arrive. There are two methods of administration: needle or spray. The spray, available as NARCAN Nasal Spray, requires no training and was developed with community-use in mind. It also contains a higher dose of naloxone than the needle administration, with a 4mg high concentrated dose as opposed to 0.4mg per dose, which is beneficial when responding to high-strength opioids like fentanyl. “Nasal administration is preferred, for safety reasons, time savings, and ease of delivery,” says Poirier.

If you’re asking yourself — and you should be — what you can do to help the fight against the opioid epidemic, one of Poirier’s top suggestions is to include naloxone spray in all your first aid kits. It’s only one part of the greater national plan, but it’s an easy step that could save the life of someone you love.