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Naloxone not just life-saving, it's cost-effective, UW study finds

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Amid a worsening toxic drug crisis, increasing the availability of naloxone nasal spray across the country will save lives, a new study from University of Waterloo has found.

It’s also cost-effective, the researchers say.

An average of 22 Canadians die each day from suspected drug poisonings, according to the Government of Canada.

In Waterloo Region, there were eight deaths in the two-week period between March 19 and April 5.

“Naloxone itself is life or death,” says Simone Morrison, director of outreach at Sanguen Heath Services.

Naloxone temporarily reverses the effects of an overdose. The medical effectiveness of the drug is well documented, but a new study from the University of Waterloo shows it’s also cost-effective – particularly for governments like Ontario that offer the nasal spray version for free.

Candice Chaffey, a nurse at a Toronto-area hospital, opens an injection Naloxone kit as she poses for a photo on Thursday, June 29, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Arlyn McAdorey)

While publically-funded injectable naloxone is available across the country, only Ontario, Quebec and the Northwest Territories also fund the intranasal option.

“People tend to prefer the nasal spray, just because it's easier to use. It's already assembled,” said Ashley Cid, one of the study’s authors and a PhD candidate in UW's School of Pharmacy.

Using mathematical models, the study found intranasal naloxone would be cost-effective if distributed to all Canadians and could prevent 151 deaths per 10,000 people.

“We're hoping that those findings would help encourage policymakers and raise awareness that the nasal spray, even though it is a little bit more expensive [than injectable], it still is cost-effective and would help save more lives,” Cid said.

Naloxone is available for free at many pharmacies across Ontario.

Patty Vamvakitis, pharmacist and owner at Carriage Crossing Pharmacy in Waterloo, holds a dose of naloxone. (Jeff Pickel/CTV Kitchener)

“There is no downside to naloxone. It absolutely does save lives. It is safe for anybody to use. It's easy to administer,” said Patty Vamvakitis, pharmacist and owner at Carriage Crossing Pharmacy in Waterloo.

“The type of person who would ask for a naloxone kit is not just necessarily a drug user, although we obviously encourage anybody who does use opioids to get a naloxone kit, it can be for the caregiver or family members.”

Morrison hopes everyone considers picking up a naloxone kit, even if they don’t think they will need it.

“We're totally in favor of removing any barriers for people accessing naloxone. It should be available to anyone, anywhere,” she said.

But Morrison adds for those who are comfortable, they should consider training to use the injectable version.

“If we use injectable, it's a little bit less intense withdrawal experience for the folks that you're using it on. So it's just an extra layer of dignity and respect,” she explained.

Ultimately experts agree, any naloxone is better than no naloxone.

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