Buying opioids online. Lisa JohnsonPublishing date:Jul 26, 2020 • Last Updated 1 day ago • 3 minute read
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Greg Clarkes knows it only takes the proper use of an overdose kit to save a life, so he wrote a book about how.
As opioid overdoses continue to plague Edmonton, the paramedic and instructor for 30 years said they are far more frequent than official statistics suggest. And the opioid epidemic has touched every demographic, not only disadvantaged or stigmatized users, he said.
How to save a life: Edmonton paramedic pens guide to treating opioid overdoses
The Rapid Response Guide to Opioid Emergencies was published in July by Edmonton-based Brush Education Inc., to help people handle a crisis that can happen without warning and among those you may not expect.
“This is so common,” Clarkes said in an interview, pointing to everything from prescription misuse, overdoses in clinical settings to accidental use. In one case he writes about in the book, Clarkes recalls a 19-year-old woman at a concert who passed out and stopped breathing.
He and other responders at the event ventilated her and administered two doses of naloxone. A report would later conclude the cannabis she had purchased on the black market and smoked at the concert was laced with fentanyl.
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“She was very fortunate she wasn’t sitting at home alone. She would have been dead,” he said.
In Edmonton, the number of opioid-related emergency calls more than doubled in May from the same time last year, according to Alberta Health Services (AHS).
The latest AHS quarterly opioid report shows on average, in the first three months of 2020, 1.6 people died every day in Alberta as a result of an apparent accidental opioid poisoning. In that time, 142 people have died.
“You’re seeing this metric of death. I don’t think there’s any shortage of people using these drugs in Alberta, I think there’s a real increase in the amount of people being resuscitated by a family member, a friend, a fellow drug user,” he said.
But, we have no way of knowing how many people are being revived by someone other than a medical professional.
In his book, Clarkes runs through how to be prepared, including how to spot symptoms when somebody is overdosing.
“Everything is slowed — slowed breathing, heart rate, responses — sometimes no response to physical or painful stimulus,” he said.
There are also special steps to keep in mind when treating opioid overdoses when COVID-19 is a constant concern. Hand sanitizer, for example, “is the last thing you should put on your skin, because it increases the rate of absorption of any opioids you might come into contact with,” said Clarkes.
And, because opioids remain in the bloodstream longer than naloxone, it’s important follow-up is done at a hospital.
“No matter how well (people) think they can handle it, they have to get EMS rolling.”
Naloxone kits, along with some training, are available for free at pharmacies, community clinics and emergency departments in Alberta.
From Jan. 1, 2016 to March 31, 2020, 242,852 naloxone kits were dispensed in Alberta through the AHS naloxone program, and 16,148 reversals were self-reported.
“I think that our death rates would be much worse than they are now if not for these kits,” said Clarkes.
AHS recommends those who use use illegal drugs to avoid using while alone, use supervised consumption services if possible and connect with harm reduction agencies, and try to reach out to available substance-use treatment, recovery-oriented supports, and mental health services.
Clarkes said organizations like harm-reduction organization Street Works are saving lives with few resources and low pay.
“Bless them. The work that they do is just phenomenal.”
Clarkes is currently a clinic-based paramedic on the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range. Buying opioids online