National pharmacists conference hears agonizing story of opioid overdose death

The Canadian Pharmacists Association has heard the agonizing story of a mother who has lost a child to the opioid crisis.

Marie Agioritis is in Fredericton as part of a group called “Moms Stop the Harm,” a group of families from across the country who have either lost a loved one or is hoping for one’s recovery from substance use.

One night in January 2015, Marie’s son Kelly acquired what he thought was an OxyContin pill he would consume recreationally.

He snorted half the pill that night without incident and would consume the other half the next morning.

“The problem was that it wasn’t OxyContin, it was a fake OxyContin, an illicit OxyContin pill full of fentanyl,” said Agioritis.

“The predominant amount of fentanyl was in the other half of the pill.”

Kelly died after taking the other half of the pill.

Agioritis told the conference troubling statistics when it comes to deaths related to substance misuse across the country.

In 2017, that number was 4,000, that’s an increase of 1,200 from the year before.

She says groups like the Pharmacists Association “get it” and are working to make a change.

“Lobbying for minimal prescribing amounts when it comes to narcotics… encouraging the physicians to be more open in their discussions with the pharmacists in how to manage that patient’s drug supply, opiate or otherwise,” Agioritis added.

Pharmacists say they would like more authority to identify and manage the process of patients using opioids.

“Maybe assist them in lowering the dose over time,” said Philip Emberley, director of practice advancement and research at the Canadian Pharmacists Association.

“Maybe even going to a lesser potent opioid than they’re currently taking in an effort to completely wean them off that medication eventually.”

Meanwhile, Agioritis says there are other, very simple things, that can help those trying to break this life-threatening addiction.

“The pharmacist, just by an act of kindness to that kid who’s standing in front of them, taking their methadone, already feeling crappy about themselves,” Agioritis said. “There’s an opportunity in that kindness.”

The conference wraps up on Tuesday.

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