Background — Studies examining the impact of pharmacy-dispensed naloxone programs on fatal opioid overdose rates are lacking. We examined the impact of the publicly funded Ontario Naloxone Program for Pharmacies (ONPP), implemented in June 2016, on provincial rates of opioid overdose deaths.
Methods — We conducted a population-based interrupted time-series study between July 1, 2012 and December 31, 2018. We considered a parsimonious model with terms for time, ONPP implementation, and time following the ONPP implementation. Models were adjusted for population characteristics, number of pharmacies and rate of naloxone distributed through non-pharmacy sites within provincial public health units.
Results — In the parsimonious model, the ONPP was associated with a non-significant 9% reduction in the level of fatal opioid overdoses (rate ratio [RR] 0.91; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.79 to 1.06), a finding that was most pronounced in regions in the lowest tertile of implementation (RR 0.75; 95% CI 0.62 to 0.91). Following multivariable adjustment, there was an increase in the level (RR 1.06; 95% CI 0.94 to 1.19) and slope change (RR 1.06; 95% CI 1.02 to 1.10) of fatal overdose rates.
Conclusion — The ONPP is insufficient as a single intervention to meaningfully reduce rates of fatal opioid overdoses during a period in which the cause of these deaths shifted from prescription opioids to highly potent fentanyl analogs. Access to additional harm reduction, treatment, and other interventions is necessary to prevent deaths and optimize the health of people who use drugs.