Supply issue puts crimp in provincial naloxone kit distribution
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Organizations that distribute life-saving naloxone kits say supply has dried up, just as need has begun to increase.
While Winnipeg community support group RaY typically receives around 400 allotments of the opioid-overdose reversal drug from Manitoba Health monthly, it received about 200 more than a month ago, and just 40 last week.
“Where normally we would get it pretty consistently, we’ve been getting it slower and slower, and slower in wider increments,” RaY director of grants and information Breda Vosters said Thursday.
“And now what’s happened is, instead of getting the amount we need even, not only has there been a delay with that, but we’ve received a 10th of what we normally would in a month. For the next couple of weeks, that’s what we’ve got. and it’s really just not enough.”
The issue arises after several months where deliveries have come late, and on the brink of summer — a time where community organizations typically see more use, and thus, more risk, advocates said.
“There’s also been this gap at a really precarious time, right when the weather starts warming up, right when people are starting to kind of come out in community again and congregate again,” Vosters said. “The risk is really, really high, and we just simply can’t have these gaps in access.”
Naloxone kits are handed out to community organizations through the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority via a Manitoba Health distribution program.
There isn’t a shortage but a supply disruption, a spokesperson from the province said.
“A brief supply issue has resulted in a delay on the shipping for some orders. Manitoba is working on obtaining more kits that will fulfill back orders and, in the coming weeks, it is expected there will be sufficient supply on hand to meet any future orders,” the spokesperson said in an email.
“In the meantime, people can also purchase naloxone without a prescription at a pharmacy, as needed.”
Even when this issue is resolved, Vosters said kits will be returning to a standard number that wasn’t enough in the first place.
On days when RaY workers are on the street around seven hours a day, they’re asked by Winnipeggers for anywhere from 75 to 100 kits. They’re usually only able to hand out between 10 and 15, Vosters said.
People often ask for two or more, because in order to properly respond to an opiate overdose when the drug is particularly potent — which is what groups are seeing in Winnipeg now — they often need more than one kit to be revived, Vosters said.
It can take upwards of 10 injections of naloxone in some cases, Vosters added, and one kit has just four.
“What is sufficient supply to (the province), I don’t think it’s quite sufficient supply, actually, based on what need in community is,” she said. “I think what they’re saying is that they’ll go back to what they had been providing us previously, but even that amount is not enough.”
To fully meet the need seen on the streets, Vosters said, the number would be some 1,000 kits monthly.
“Just yesterday, there were five of our community members who we’ve given out naloxone kits came to us and said, ‘Hey, I need more kits because I just had to use mine,’” she said. “So that was five lives saved in just one day.”
Vosters wants to see the province ramp up its handouts to not only better meet the needs of people, but to make it possible for groups to “pad out” their supply should another disruption happen again.
“I think, so far, we haven’t seen the full effects of (the supply delay). I think we will,” she said. “I wouldn’t be shocked if in the next week or so we hear about a whole string of overdose deaths occurring.”
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.