To help save lives, the Canadian Red Cross has added training to identify and respond to opioid poisoning in all its first aid and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) programs offered across the country.
The program modification represents the first of a series of Red Cross measures funded by Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP) to help reduce opioid-related deaths by increasing Canadians’ access to response training and a life-saving medication that buys those affected enough time for medical attention.
“We have seen first-hand how the opioid crisis is devastating Canadian families and communities,” said Conrad Sauvé, president and CEO of the Canadian Red Cross, in a press release. “We are pleased to have the opportunity to bring the strength of Red Cross to this very complex health and social issue.”
Between January 2016 and December 2020 there were more than 21,000 apparent opioid toxicity deaths in Canada – with 97 per cent happening by accident. The crisis has worsened since the onset of COVID-19 – with 6,214 deaths recorded in 2020 alone.
Specifically, SUAP is providing Red Cross $7.9 million over the next three years to work in parallel with St. John Ambulance to deliver opioid poisoning education and response training through multiple platforms; and to develop and maintain a system to provide Canadians with ready access to naloxone, a medication that temporarily reverses some of the life-threatening effects of opioid poisoning.
A primary focus of the project is to reach people at risk for opioid poisoning in underserved, remote, rural, or Indigenous communities.
“Research suggests the crisis is hitting smaller communities the hardest,” said Sauvé. “In fact, analysis from the Canadian Institute for Health Information found communities of 50,000 to 99,999 people had rates of opioid-related hospitalizations more than twice that of cities with populations over 500,000.”
As part of the SUAP project, the University of Toronto is conducting an assessment to identify communities most at risk of opioid misuse. They will then define needs, pinpoint gaps in their current response and indicate opportunities to intervene.
Results of the assessment will inform development and delivery of stand-alone opioid response training that Red Cross plans to launch this Fall in all provinces and territories, except Quebec – where similar programming is already in place.
Red Cross will add self-directed online opioid poisoning response training to its offerings in 2022. The platform will also provide for the ordering of naloxone kits.
Altogether, Red Cross expects to provide opioid poisoning response training to 1.5 million Canadians over the next three years, while helping millions more to better understand the risks, stigmas, misconceptions, and vulnerabilities of opioid misuse.
To register now for opioid poisoning response training delivered as part of Red Cross first aid and CPR programming, visit myrc.redcross.ca. Training is provided in accordance with current guidelines of provincial and territorial public health authorities. In-person training options are currently available in certain jurisdictions.