St John Ambulance Canada responds to the Opioid Poisoning Epidemic

The Covid-19 pandemic is not the only public health crisis impacting communities in Canada today. For more than a decade, frontline workers and communities across Canada have been battling the opioid poisoning crisis which has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Canadians in the last five years. 

To understand more about the crisis it is important to know what exactly opioid poisoning is. Opioid poisoning or overdose is toxicity due to excessive consumption of opioids such as morphine, codeine, heroin, fentanyl, tramadol and methadone.

To help fight the opioid epidemic, St John Ambulance Canada was approached by Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP) in April of 2020 with an urgent request to develop and deliver national training and resources around opioid poisoning response and nasal Naloxone administration.

Health Canada also requested that St John Ambulance Canada focus its outreach and training efforts on frontline workers within homeless shelters and other homelessness-serving organisations.

St John Ambulance Canada

“Nasal Naloxone is a very effective way to reverse the strong overdoses we experience in the community. Also, to start calling them a poisoning rather than an overdose is such a great way to move forward in destigmatising substance use and those who use substances.”

St John Ambulance Canada Trainer

How is St John Ambulance Canada helping?

In late 2020 St John Ambulance Canada started to develop various programmes to help support homeless shelters and other supportive organisations in communities all over Canada, with classes tailored for the general public, shelters, community organisations, construction and trade industries.

All training is offered to every region of Canada, except for Quebec, due to their separate and pre-existing programming agreements with Health Canada.

As of June 2022, 270,500 standard first aid and emergency first aid course attendees have completed a module in opioid poisoning response.

Not only does opioid poisoning response training equip participants and communities with the confidence, skills and knowledge to respond to an opioid poisoning with nasal naloxone, but it also incorporates a harm reduction approach, promotes de-stigmatisation, self-care and deepens empathy to better combat the opioid public health crisis in Canada.

The opioid poisoning response training programme anticipates distributing up to 50,000 Naloxone kits to underserved communities across Canada. With the hope that a further 1,125,000 Canadians will receive a module in opioid poisoning response through their standard or emergency first aid training.

“The actual training on the use of Naloxone was definitely important, but the discussion about not making assumptions about people with substance abuse problems and the part about awareness of trauma for the helper was perspective shifting for me. Thank you for a such well-rounded course.

OPRT (Opioid poisoning response training) participant