Manitoba is considering making a life-saving overdose antidote medication more widely accessible.
In a statement to the Free Press, Manitoba’s health department confirmed "the unscheduling of naloxone is being reviewed by the province."
Advocates have been calling on the provincial government to designate naloxone as an unscheduled substance, which would allow the medication to be available outside of pharmacies. Other provinces that have been hard hit by the opioid crisis, including B.C. and Alberta, have already made similar moves. When used properly, naloxone can reverse the effects of an opioid drug overdose. In Manitoba, it is available without a prescription as a Schedule II drug, and can be distributed via take-home kits at designated pharmacies and community organizations.
Legislative change is necessary before Manitoba’s College of Pharmacists can make any changes to how pharmacists in the province handle naloxone or any other substance, a College spokesperson wrote in an email.
"Using B.C. as an example, I can tell you that this was a regulation change that allowed for it to happen. In Manitoba, it works the same way where once a regulation change occurs, only then will the College likely have a role in ensuring pharmacists are aware of any changes and how they may impact their practice or pharmacy," Anja Sadovski stated.
Manitoba hasn’t made any promises about unscheduling the medication. The health department stated the government has already tried to make the take-home kits more widely available by allowing them to be distributed to family and friends of those who are at risk of overdosing.
Meanwhile, paramedics have had to up their dosages of emergency naloxone for suspected opioid-overdose victims as the street drugs become more toxic and individual users’ tolerance builds.
Presumed opioid overdoses reached a record high in the first six months of this year, according to data from the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service. Paramedics have had to administer more naloxone, and have increased the starting dosage to 10 times the level they would have administered two years ago.
There is no publicly available data that shows how many Manitobans have died of drug overdoses so far this year.
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.