By Chinta Puxley, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – Manitoba is the latest province to distribute fentanyl antidote kits to drug users in an attempt to save people from overdosing on the powerful drug.
The province has set up a fentanyl task force which will oversee the distribution of 1,300 naloxone kits in Winnipeg and launch a public awareness campaign about the drug. The group will also explore expanding addiction support for opioid drug users and reducing wait times for treatment.
Attorney General Gord Mackintosh said the province will spend $500,000 on the initiatives, adding the drug must be stopped before it gains a foothold in Manitoba.
“While fentanyl is comforting to some Manitobans in pain, it is ruthlessly killing others,” he said at a press conference Wednesday. “It is leaving in its wake far too many Canadian families who are suffering in grief and shock.”
Fentanyl has been blamed for more than 650 deaths across Canada in the last six years.
Police and health officials say the drug poses a serious threat to public safety across North America. The opioid is used as a painkiller for terminally ill cancer patients and is 100 times more powerful than heroin.
Medical officer of health Joss Reimer, with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said fentanyl was associated with 29 deaths in Manitoba last year — almost double previous years.
Manitoba is following Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Alberta, which have all announced programs to distribute the antidote naloxone in take-home kits.
The antidote can be injected much like an EpiPen, a medical device used to inject epinephrine in cases of extreme allergic reaction, Reimer said.
“When it’s given in an overdose setting, it can save lives and will save lives with this program here in Winnipeg initially and then in Manitoba overall.”
RCMP Chief Superintendent Scott Kolody said fentanyl is a problem worldwide. The drug can be mixed in with other street drugs so users may be taking it without their knowledge, he said.
“It’s very unpredictable,” he said. “If you are buying drugs off the street, whether it be meth or Oxycontin, it could be laced with fentanyl.”
Health Minister Sharon Blady said Manitoba hasn’t seen the same number of fentanyl-related deaths as other provinces — yet.
“We are seeing warning signs,” Blady said. “It is important that we act now.”
Ontario recently passed a private member’s bill that forces people who take the drug through a skin patch to turn in their used patch before getting a new one.