Canada's largest school board will be supplying naloxone kits to more than 100 of its high schools, as cities across the country continue to deal with overdose deaths linked to opioids.
Toronto District School Board spokesman Ryan Bird said that two or three staff members at each school will receive training next month to properly spot an overdose and administer the antidote.
"It's not that there is any specific thing that happened that prompted this, but we do know that opioids are an increasing issue across the country," Bird said Thursday. "So, it's more of a preventative step that we're taking to ensure that, on the off chance that something like this were to happen, we do have the training and the naloxone to help these students."
The board will be covering the cost of the nasal spray, he said, adding that each kit costs between $150 and $200.
The move comes almost a year after the City of Toronto released an overdose action plan that included establishing three supervised injection sites.
Figures from Toronto Public Health indicate that in 2016, fentanyl replaced heroin and morphine as the most commonly present opioid in overdose deaths. The potent synthetic painkiller was present in 48 per cent of accidental opioid deaths in 2016, compared to 31 per cent in 2015. And, between August and the end of January, Toronto paramedics responded to more than 1,400 suspected overdose calls, 106 of which were fatal.
Statistics released by the Public Health Agency of Canada in December also show that at least 1,460 Canadians died from opioid-related overdoses in the first half of 2017, a number expected to rise, as not all provinces have reported final data for the period.
British Columbia is one of the regions hardest hit by fentanyl-related overdose deaths. Last week, the province's coroner said illicit drug overdoses claimed 1,422 lives in B.C. in 2017 – with 81 per cent of those deaths linked to fentanyl.
"Throughout the progression of the fentanyl crisis in B.C., Vancouver School Board has been working closely with Vancouver Coastal Health to determine the appropriate actions for schools," the board said in a statement to The Canadian Press late Thursday.
The kits are not in Vancouver schools in areas that are considered low-risk, the board said, as "a naloxone kit is unlikely to be of benefit, and may result in harm, if it delays calling 911, the most appropriate response to medical distress."
But the board said where a "risk assessment has determined an elevated risk of opioid use," kits will be available and, on a voluntary basis, staff can seek training to use them.
Meanwhile, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has equipped all its high schools with kits that include two doses of naloxone nasal spray. Administrators received training from Ottawa Public Health in August, spokeswoman Sharlene Hunter said.
Peel District School Board, west of Toronto, said it doesn't have the kits in its schools, but officials said they are reviewing the decision with Peel Public Health.
Bird and Hunter said their school boards don't intend on supplying elementary schools with kits, adding that they were focusing on older students.
"We have EpiPens in our schools in case someone were to have a severe allergic reaction. We don't want to have to use them, but they are there just in case," Bird said.
"The same can be applied to naloxone as well."
The federal health minister says the government is working with a variety of organizations and levels of government to find solutions to the opioid crisis. Ginette Petitpas Taylor says Ottawa will boost treatment options for drug users.
The Canadian Press