VERNON - I stepped up to the counter, cleared my voice and said “hi, do you have any naloxone kits?”
It felt a little weird. I was conscious of other customers nearby, and watched the clerk for her reaction. She gave me an easy smile and said she’d have to get a pharmacist.
Before I go on, I should point out a few things. I wasn’t there for the same reason most people would be. As a journalist, I wanted to see how things worked following a recent announcement by the B.C. government about free naloxone kits being sent to participating pharmacies, including Save-On-Foods and London Drugs. It's part of the effort to combat B.C.'s deadly opioid epidemic.
The pharmacist came over and asked why I wanted one. I replied that I thought it would be a good idea to keep one in my car, especially over the holiday party season, just in case it could help someone.
That didn’t quite cut it for a free one. To be eligible, you must either be an opioid user or someone likely to witness an overdose, such as a family member.
The retail price for a kit? About $50. Too much for me.
The pharmacist shrugged apologetically and said I might try the primary care clinic.
If I’d said yes to either of the questions, I would have promptly been given a free one, plus training from a pharmacist on how to use the kit, London Drugs pharmacy division general manager Chris Chiew said in an interview.
“Basically we would ask ‘are you a user?’ or ‘do you have someone you think might be a user?’” Chiew said. “If you think you might need it, you’d be able to walk out with it.”
He says each London Drugs pharmacy in B.C. received five of the free kits earlier this month.
“We’ve told them to keep an eye on how many they have and as soon as they start dispensing it they can order more from our warehouse,” he said.
Chiew thinks it’s a great idea, because it makes the life-saving drug more accessible to those who need it. But he says you shouldn't have one if you don't need one.
“I wouldn’t recommend having it if it’s unlikely you’re going to come across an opioid user because then you’re actually exposing your household to unnecessary medications. For your own safety, no I would not recommend having it if it’s highly unlikely you’d come across an opioid user,” Chiew said.
The kits come with two vials of naloxone, latex gloves and a needle. People getting a free — or $50 — kit would be shown how to fill the needle and inject it into a muscle, usually the thigh. If you’re like me and haven’t used a needle before, you might be a little nervous about the whole plunging-a-needle-into-someone’s-leg procedure. There is another reversal drug on the market, a nasal spray, but that isn’t currently funded by the government.
Save-On-Foods and Hogarth’s Clinic Pharmacy also carry free naloxone kits in Vernon, and more are expected to join the program. You can check for participating pharmacies in your community here.
According to a release from the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, about 1900 kits were distributed to 220 pharmacies — equating to about nine kits per location.
Asked if he thinks that will be enough, Chiew says they’ll have to wait and see what the demand is like.
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