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A naloxone kit is seen in Vancouver on Nov. 13, 2017.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

In the wake of at least 17 opioid deaths in New Brunswick this year, the province has introduced a naloxone kit program in response to a growing drug epidemic nationwide.

"We know that we are experiencing deaths due to overdoses based on opioids and having the kits in our community will absolutely save lives," Matthew Smith, executive director of AIDS New Brunswick, said Wednesday.

Health Minister Benoit Bourque announced the government will spend $150,000 to buy about 2,500 kits. Naloxone temporarily reverses overdoses caused by opioid drugs such as fentanyl or heroin.

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The kits will be distributed free through needle exchange programs with AIDS New Brunswick, AIDS Moncton and AIDS Saint John.

Smith called the 2,500 kits a good start, but said officials will have a better handle on how many are needed once the program gets underway.

The kits include naloxone, single-use syringes, a pair of latex gloves, alcohol swabs, a one-way rescue breathing barrier mask and step-by-step instructions.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, acting chief medical officer of health, said 25 people died in New Brunswick due to drugs during the first six months of this year – 17 of them related to opioids.

"Today's street drugs are deadlier than ever and opioids, including fentanyl, are having a devastating effect throughout Canada. Although we are not seeing a major spike in overdoses here in New Brunswick, we need to be prepared," Russell said.

Last week, Russell announced that the powerful drug carfentanil was found in the system of an individual who died recently in southern New Brunswick.

Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid about 100 times more powerful than fentanyl.

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It only takes an amount equivalent to a grain of salt, or two milligrams of carfentanil powder, to be lethal through inhalation, ingestion or absorption through the skin.

The drug can be mixed with other drugs and cannot be detected unless tested in a laboratory.

Russell said what makes it so dangerous is that people don't know it's being included in other street drugs.

She said New Brunswick is learning from other provinces on how to address the opioid issue, especially from British Columbia, which declared a public health emergency in 2016 because of the number of fentanyl overdoses.

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