OPINION: What you need to know about opioids

Naloxone can halt the effects of an opioid overdose.

Mike Hensen / Postmedia Network

On top of the pandemic, Ontario and Kenora are facing a drug addiction and overdose crisis. Monday, Aug. 31 is Overdose Awareness Day, a day to increase awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those they have lost because of a drug overdose.

As a pharmacist, I want to share important information on opioids, what to do if you are prescribed an opioid, and how to recognize the signs of an overdose so you can help in case of an emergency.

Opioids are a medication that are often prescribed to relieve serious pain, possibly the result of an injury, surgery or conditions like cancer. They can also induce a euphoric feeling. While they are an important therapy to many patients, opioids are highly addictive. An overdose can happen to anyone taking an opioid and in 2018 alone, over 1,450 Ontarians died from opioid-related causes according to Public Health Ontario statistics.

If you have been prescribed an opioid medication, it is important that you take steps to reduce the risk of misuse:

  • Do not drink any alcohol
  • Do not start any new medications without talking to your Pharmacist or a medical health professional first
  •  Never share your medication with anyone
  • Take opioids as prescribed. If you have any questions, ask your pharmacist or a health care professional
  • Return any unneeded opioids to the pharmacy, do not keep them on hand

If you or someone you know uses opioids, it is a good idea to have a free Naloxone kit on-hand to stay prepared. Naloxone is a medication used to treat someone who has overdosed on opioids by temporarily reversing the effects of an opioid overdose and allowing time for medical help to arrive. Free injectable and intra-nasal Naloxone kits are available at your local pharmacy. They can also provide training on how to use them so you can be prepared in case of an emergency.

Symptoms of an overdose may include loss of consciousness, unresponsiveness, or slow and shallow breathing. The person may also begin vomiting or choking, and their skin may turn pale, blue or ashy. If you suspect an overdose, it is important to always dial 911 right away, follow their instructions and administer Naloxone.

When checking for signs of an overdose, try to remember the “ABCs”:

  • Alert – Are they responding to your voice?
  • Breathing – Is their breathing erratic or stopped completely?
  • Colour – Are their lips or fingertips blue or grey?

Maegan Hayward is the pharmacist and owner of Shoppers Drug Mart in Kenora.

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