Opioids an increasing public health concern in Saskatchewan: minister

The Saskatchewan government launched an opioid overdose awareness campaign Tuesday to save lives.

People living with addictions are being encouraged to seek treatment and make use of harm reduction services such as take-home naloxone kits.

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Opioids are prescribed primarily to relieve pain. When used improperly, they can cause dependence, overdose, and even death.

“Opioids and opioid-related deaths are an increasing public health concern in Saskatchewan and across Canada,” Health Minister Jim Reiter said in a press release.

“An opioid overdose can happen to anyone, whether the drugs were obtained legally or illegally. It is important to know the signs of an opioid overdose and how you can prevent one from becoming fatal.”

The campaign encourages people to learn the signs of an opioid overdose — such as shallow or stopped breathing, or unable to wake up — and to know how to respond.

Health officials said opioids affect the part of the brain that controls breathing, so when too much of an opioid is taken, breathing slows or stops. Naloxone reverses the effects of an overdose temporarily, restoring breathing in a few minutes.

The campaign also aims to assure people know The Good Samaritan Act protects them from being arrested if illegal drugs are present when the police or first responders arrive.

Introduced by the federal government in 2017, the act provides legal protection for those seeking an emergency response to a drug overdose. Officials said the goal is to ensure fear of repercussion does not get in the way of anyone saving a life.

“You can save a life. Call 911 and use your take-home naloxone kit,” Reiter said.

For more information or to get a free take-home naloxone kit, call Healthline 811 or visit the government online.

The province has also expanded opioid substitution therapy and provides funding for the Prescription Review Program, which aims to detect the abuse and diversion of prescription drugs.

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