Pharmacy Opioid Crisis
Written by Tamar Koleba, Pharmacy Manager, Lower Mainland Pharmacy Services

Fraser Health Pharmacy staff are playing an integral role in responding to the opioid crisis throughout the Lower Mainland, Sea to Sky, Sunshine and Central Coasts.

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall says that the opioid crisis is the most devastating problem he has faced in his career (1). Lower Mainland Pharmacy Services is a Fraser Health consolidated department playing an integral role in responding to the crisis throughout the Lower Mainland, Sea to Sky, Sunshine and Central Coasts.

Naloxone is a key part of the crisis response. Pharmaceutical purchasers are pharmacy technicians who track naloxone usage, anticipate demand, communicate with vendors and ensure our emergency departments, community programs, care facilities and the Mobile Medical Unit are stocked with this life-saving medication. In 2016, pharmacy purchasers Helena Skrepnik, Debra O’Connor and their colleagues purchased 30,000 vials and ampoules of naloxone, double the volume purchased in 2015.

In the Downtown Eastside, pharmacy assistants, pharmacy technicians and pharmacists are responding to the crisis as part of the multidisciplinary Connections Clinic, an innovative facility that opened March 1. The clinic provides low-barrier, fast access to addictions and primary care services and aims to transition clients to greater engagement with health services. Pharmacy staff offer opioid replacement therapy, such as methadone and Suboxone, as well as other medications and clinical care, seven days a week.

Pharmacy staff are also embedded in residential treatment programs for addictions, such as pharmacist Renee Bjarnson at Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addiction. Bjarnson and her colleagues have long been teaching clients how to respond to an opioid overdose. Bjarnson says, “With fentanyl and now carfentanil being found in a variety of illicit substances including cocaine, amphetamines, crack cocaine and ecstasy, we are expanding our naloxone program. One of the most dangerous times for an overdose is when someone has been substance free for a period of time. If relapse occurs, we want our clients and their family educated and prepared.

1.      Meissner, D. (2017, February 2). Drug overdose crisis is deadliest of career, B.C.'s top doctor says. CTV News. Retrieved from

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