Nova Scotia's response to the opioid epidemic on the East Coast.
The war on drugs which has been sweeping through North America since 1971 has made illicit drugs even more dangerous than ever before. The illegal nature of the production of drugs like cocaine, MDMA and heroin often allows drug producers to “cut” these substances with all kinds of chemicals in order to stretch their product as far as possible, making these already risky drugs much more dangerous.
The opioid epidemic has swept from the west coast to the east coast of Canada in the last few years. There were over 2500 opioid related deaths in 2016 alone, sixty of which took place in Nova Scotia. While many opioid users are taking drugs that are prescribed to them by doctors, many recreational users are coming into accidental contact with opioids such as fentanyl that are being put into their drugs as cutting agents.
Opioids that are mixed into drugs like cocaine, heroin and MDMA are difficult to recognize unless the user has their own drug testing kit, which are usually sold for around sixty dollars. Though usually, it is not until the dose has been taken that the user can tell if their drugs were ‘clean’ or not.
Opioids have claimed the lives of both recreational drug users and those who become addicted through prescribed treatment. Often times, people who use drugs more occasionally and perhaps do not know their sources as well, are getting caught in life threatening situations. Opioid issues are often found on university campuses. As university students, the odds are that we will have a run in with illegal drugs by the time we graduate - be it by our own pursuit or witnessing the pursuits of others. Drugs like cocaine and MDMA have become increasingly popular as party drugs and students along with other young people are now at a higher risk than ever before of coming into contact with drugs that are cut dangerously with other substances.
In response to these risks, the Nova Scotian provincial government has begun to stock up pharmacies with naloxone kits to halt the effects of the opioid overdose until help arrives. When someone is having an overdose their breathing can slow down or stop, and naloxone works to reverse the effects of the opioid for a period of time and help to jump-start one's breathing. Naloxone is a medication that is administered either through the nose as a spray or by injection using a needle. It is extremely important to call the emergency services as well as administering this medication.
These lifesaving kits are now available for free in 240 pharmacies across Nova Scotia, anyone can now go in anonymously and receive one. Those who use opioids or believe themselves to be at risk of overdose should be carrying these kits with them. On top of making these resources readily available in pharmacies naloxone kits are now also available on many universities campuses through health and residence services.
University staff are being trained to use these kits and how to deal with opioid overdoses. They have also been distributed to police, within provincial jails and to harm reduction clinics. While the strict laws that surround drugs make a great deal of sense in theory to prevent the likelihood of addiction and death, the fact is that illegal drugs continue to be readily available for purchase all across the country and people continue to buy them and use them despite the risks. Instead of ignoring a problem that is growing steadily, it is important for us to make the use of drugs safer.
The implementation of these kits is extremely smart and beneficial and will continue to make a big difference in the lives of many. As students and as young people it is important that we are always looking out for one another. Having these kits on hand in case of an emergency is crucial. As of right now, recreational drugs are illegal and the production is unregulated making it very difficult to know whether or not you are getting the drugs you think you are. Because of this reality it is important that we equip ourselves to be prepared in case of an emergency. I commend the Nova Scotia government for implementing this initiative and having a realistic, as opposed to a punitive approach when it comes to dealing with drug use in the province.