KELOWNA - B.C. made a health care decision to provide naloxone kits for free in response to the fentanyl and overdose emergency gripping the province, but it has also alienated other people, such as allergy sufferers and some diabetics who need medications to survive and have to pay their own way.
Many diabetics have to spend as much as $10 per day to maintain their own monitoring, insulin and other costs. An Epipen, which can stop anaphylaxis in allergy sufferers, costs $115 in Canada and has to be replaced each year or after each use.
A naloxone kit, which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, is entirely covered by the provincial government.
Emily Walcott has had to carry around an Epipen since she was 17 due to a wasp allergy. Four years ago she found out she was severely allergic to sulphur.
“I found out when I was in makeup school moulding with a sulphur-based clay and started going into anaphylactic shock.”
Five months ago, an allergic reaction to an antibiotic almost killed the 24-year-old.
“By the time we got to the hospital things weren’t making sense to me anymore, I couldn’t answer the nurses' question - I thought I was going to die.”
Walcott is a bartender at Fernando’s Pub in Kelowna and she is trained to administer naloxone shots. She says it’s frustrating what the government will and won’t cover in terms of medication.
“I have compassion for drug users and I am really glad that naloxone is readily available for an overdose, but I don’t have a choice when it comes to my allergies,” Walcott says.
Although those with allergies can do the best they can to avoid coming into contact with what they’re allergic to, sometimes it is out of their control.
“Mistakes still happen and I could technically go into shock on any day for an unknown reason,” she said. “Epipens aren’t inexpensive and I have to replace it every year even if I haven’t used it - it’s pretty frustrating since I don’t have a choice but to have one with me.”
Walcott’s sentiments are echoed by many Epipen users, particularly since the naloxone kits were handed out for free.
Donna Thibeault is a resident care aide in Grand Forks. She says she’s not sure why the province won’t cover Epipens.
“Overall I am outraged that illicit drug users are able to access a drug that can save their lives at no cost to them and I am not afforded the same respect.”
Thibeault says the issue hits close to home because 10 years ago her sister died as a result of a drug overdose.
“I have a mixture of feelings, I think we have to support both,” she said. “I believe that illicit drug users should be able to access recovery programs and the drugs they use in therapy for free, just as I should be able to acquire my Epipen and allergy medications free for my affliction.”
The Ministry of Health provided no justification for the disparity but says they are working on delivering the best prices for British Columbians.
“Through Fair PharmaCare, every British Columbian is eligible for assistance with prescription costs,” said a Ministry of Health representative. “Clients with more income pay a percentage of the cost, as well as a deductible, which is similar to private health insurance plans. The lowest income earners pay no deductible at all.”
Regarding naloxone, the Ministry says the exact cost of a naloxone shot is not given by the provincial government.
“To ensure B.C. continues to provide the best price possible, and for competitive procurement reasons, we are not able to provide the cost of a single naloxone kit,” the Ministry of Health said.
For Walcott, she believes charging people for Epipens all comes down to pharmaceuticals making money.
“Other than the fact pharmaceuticals can and will make a decent dime off users, perhaps another reason they keep the costs of Epipens up is to make sure people don’t abuse the use of them.”
- Source attribution on this story was updated at 10:30 a.m. March 7.
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