Pharmacy Professor Kelly Grindrod

Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy has created a video to help opioid users and their loved ones administer a life-saving drug they can now get directly from their local pharmacist.

“The drug is available behind the counter without a prescription and you’ll be able to talk to a pharmacist to get it,” says Kelly Grindrod, an assistant professor in Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy. The drug - known as naloxone -  is available to anyone who is currently using opioids, a past opioid user, or a family member, friend or other person in a position to assist a person at risk of overdose from opioids. Anyone can request a naloxone kit, said Grindrod.

Having the drug available is one thing but having the confidence and ability to administer it is another. That’s why Grindrod and her team created a video to show people how to administer naloxone when someone is at risk of an overdose:

Naloxone is available free and while only eight pharmacies in Waterloo Region are regularly carrying naloxone, she says pharmacists can play a vital role in making this life-saving medication easily available to the public. “Ask your local pharmacy if they carry it,” she says. “If they don’t have it, tell them you’ll be back in a week.”

 “The term ‘opioid’ can be used to describe any chemical with morphine-like effects,” School of Pharmacy Associate Professor Michael Beazely says. Pharmaceutical opioids include morphine, codeine, oxycodone and fentanyl, and they are often prescribed to relieve pain.

Beazely says while opioids were considered highly addictive pre-1980, the prescription of opioids began to rise in the 1990s and throughout the 2000s.  A recent report by the Institute of Clinical Evaluative Sciences at St Michael’s Hospital and the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network indicated that in 2015, nearly 24,000 people in Waterloo Region were using opioids.

The School of Pharmacy held a lecture last week entitled the Opioid Crisis: A local perspective on an international issue.  Local non-profits, pharmacists, the police, social service workers and more heard  from Beazely, Grindrod and Chris Harold from Region of Waterloo Public Health, discuss opioid use and misuse in the Region.

This drastic rise in opioid use, combined with changes in dosage form, has resulted in an increased risk for addiction among users and increased ability to access high quantities of the medications. Certain opioids, such as fentanyl, are especially potent.

“Fentanyl is 80 times more potent than morphine,” says Beazely. “When it’s cut into other illicit drugs, the risk of overdosing increases drastically.”

An opium poppy

The milky fluid from the poppy seed pod is dried and used to make opium.