News Releases

News Release - Manitoba

December 15, 2020

MANITOBA GOVERNMENT ENHANCING ACCESS TO NALOXONE

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System Improvement Will Better Protect Manitobans, Improve Access to Drug Prescribed to Treat Opioid Use Disorder: Friesen

The Manitoba government is making legislative changes to how the drug naloxone is classified in order to remove barriers to accessing this life-saving drug and reduce opioid overdose deaths, Health, Seniors and Active Living Minister Cameron Friesen announced today. 
 
“We know that access to naloxone can help people survive an opioid overdose, which is why we introduced the provincial Take-Home Naloxone program in 2017, and have continued to make improvements to the program to increase access to naloxone,” said Friesen. “This legislative change will open up access for front-line social service providers to provide kits where they are needed most. It will also allow retail kits to be sold at a range of retail locations to further improve access to the drug, helping us protect Manitobans from death related to opioid overdose.” 
 
The minister also said easing access to the drug may also reduce stigma and encourage those in need to access naloxone.
 
Currently, naloxone is listed as a Schedule II drug in Manitoba, which means it does not require a prescription, but does require it to be handed out by a health-care provider and can only be sold in pharmacies. 
 
As an unscheduled drug, naloxone can be accessed or sold without professional supervision from a health-care provider and can be sold in any retail location – on the shelf, not behind the counter. Manitoba will be the fourth province to make naloxone an unscheduled drug, joining British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
 
“We welcome these steps which are consistent with our mission to protect the health and well-being of Manitobans by ensuring and promoting safe, patient-centred and progressive pharmacy practice,” said Wendy Clark, president, College of Pharmacists of Manitoba. “When used properly, naloxone can be a life saver and your local pharmacist can assist you with appropriate education and counselling.”
 
Naloxone is used as an antidote to an opioid overdose. It temporarily reverses the life-threatening slowed breathing from an opioid overdose. The government doubled access to naloxone kits in June, as part of the response to COVID-19. As of November, there were 125 Take-Home Naloxone program registered distribution sites across the province in all five health regions and in 29 First Nations communities. In the first 11 months of 2020, 5,635 kits were sent to these distribution sites.
 
“De-listing Naloxone brings this critical life-saving medication into the hands of Manitobans and improving its accessibility is another step in combatting the opioid crisis that is afflicting so many of our loved ones,” said Dr. Ginette Poulin, medical director, Addictions Foundation of Manitoba. “Naloxone as part of a strategy with longer-term treatment options like opioid agonist treatment including Suboxone, are important medications in managing opioid use disorder.”
 
The minister noted the legislative change is consistent with a recommendation from the Improving Access and Co-ordination of Mental Health and Addictions Services: A Provincial Strategy for all Manitobans (also known as the VIRGO report), on increasing capacity for harm reduction services and the implementation of a better co-ordinated provincial naloxone distribution program.
 
The Manitoba government recently passed legislation that enables the province to join a class action lawsuit against opioid manufacturers. 
 
The Opioid Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act, passed Dec. 3, allows the province to join the class action lawsuit launched by British Columbia in August 2018 and pursue claims in the bankruptcy of Purdue Pharma. The lawsuit names more than 40 manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors of opioids in Canada. 
 
This legislation builds on recent investments in prevention, support and recovery, with a special focus on children and youth and addressing recommendations from a number of reports including VIRGO, the Illicit Drug Task Force and the Community Wellness and Public Safety Alliance. 
 
These changes also support other investments in mental health and addiction services in Manitoba including more than $42 million in new or expanded mental health and addictions services or programs since last fall.
 
For more information on the VIRGO report, visit www.gov.mb.ca/health/mha/strategy.html.
 
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