FAQ - Opioids, Overdose and Naloxone
Opioid overdose is an ongoing public health problem. Our FAQ is there to help you understand the issues and dangers of this crisis.
Learn how to react in case of an overdose and how to recognize the signs and avoid them. Discover the role of Naloxone as an antidote during an overdose and how to get your hands on a naloxone kit by visiting your pharmacist.
The opioid crisis in Quebec: let the statistics speak
In 2017, 6,072 hospital visits were due to opioid poisoning in Canada were identified. This represents a rate of 16,4 hospitalizations per 100,000 inhabitants1. The situation in Quebec is better than the Canadian average, with 9,8 hospitalizations per 100,000 inhabitants. (2016 data for Qc).
Frequently Asked Question
What are opioids?
Opioids are analgesic drugs used primarily to reduce pain. In this class of drug, the most frequently used are Codeine, Morphine, Hydromorphone (Dilaudid), Oxycodone (Supeudol), Fentanyl and Methadone.
What is opioid poisoning?
Intoxication occurs when these two conditions are met:
An opioid is taken in an inappropriate way (eg: non-compliance with the dosage, not following the recommendations, taking someone else’s medicine) AND causes a serious health problem.
What are the signs of an overdose? 2, 3
- Blue coloring of the lips or nails (cyanosis)
- Extreme drowsiness (difficulty staying awake or loss of consciousness)
- Slow, weak or nonexistent breathing
- Deceleration or absence of heartbeat
- Very small pupils
- Cold and moist skin
- Dizziness and confusion
- Choking, gurgling or snoring sounds
- Inability to wake up, even if shaken or with a loud noise (a scream)
How to reduce the risk of overdose?
- Follow the frequency and indications of prescribed doses.
- Do not take someone else’s medication.
- Return unused medications or leftovers (once your therapy is over by doctor’s order) to avoid confusion.
- Avoid taking drugs that are no longer useful.
- Make your loved ones aware of the risk of taking opioids.
- Keep your medication out of the reach of children and use child-resistant containers.
What is naloxone?
Naloxone is an antidote used to reverse the effect of an opioid overdose. It is available in two forms: injectable and intranasal form. The intranasal form is administered by a nasal spray, which is the preferred way.
How to get a naloxone kit? 4
If you use opioids or have contact with their users, you can receive a free kit from your pharmacist. In some provinces, you might need an ID card or health insurance card.
How to preserve naloxone?
- Keep naloxone at room temperature and protect it from light.
- Check the expiry date.
- Keep the naloxone in its original package before use.
How to administer naloxone?
When you pick up your naloxone kit at the pharmacy, the pharmacist will explain how to administer naloxone and give you advice.
- Even if someone received naloxone, it is important for them to go the hospital. This antidote acts for a short period of time only, so the risk of overdose is still real after the effects of naloxone dissipate.
- The Good Samaritan Act provides some legal protection for witnesses or victims of overdose such as possession of an illegal substance.
How can my pharmacist help me?
- If you take an opioid and you feel ready to stop it or reduce the dose, ask to meet your pharmacist.
- The pharmacist can suggest alternative medicines or treatments.
- He can provide you with a naloxone kit, as well as explain how and when to use it.
If you have questions or concerns about the use of medications opioids or naloxone, do not hesitate to consult your pharmacist. He can give you the information you need and answer your questions.
1 CIHI (Canadian Institute for Health Information). Opioid-Related Harms in Canada [Internet]. Available: https://www.cihi.ca/sites/default/files/document/opioid-related-harms-report-2018-en-web.pdf
2 Health Canada. Opioid Overdose [Internet]. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/substance-use/problematic-prescription-drug-use/opioids/overdose.html
3 Health Canada. Naloxone [Internet]. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/substance-use/problematic-prescription-drug-use/opioids/naloxone.html
4 INESSS. Naloxone [Internet]. Disponible: https://www.inesss.qc.ca/en/themes/medicaments/collective-prescriptions/protocoles-medicaux-nationaux-et-ordonnances-associees/naloxone.html
The pharmacy services presented in this section are offered by pharmacist owners who are affiliated with PROXIM. The pharmacists are solely responsible for the professional activities carried out during the practice of pharmacy.
The information contained herein is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide complete information on the subject matter or to replace the advice of a health professional. This information does not constitute medical consultation, diagnosis or opinion and should not be interpreted as such. Please consult your health care provider if you have any questions about your health, medications or treatment.