Our People in Profile: Take Home Naloxone coordinator Amanda Hudson emphasizes ‘compassion’ not just on Overdose Awareness Day, but every day
Nova Scotia Health Authority’s (NSHA) Take Home Naloxone (THN) initiative has grown by “leaps and bounds,” according to provincial program coordinator Amanda Hudson.
“We now have over 300 access points across the province,” said Hudson, who has been leading the THN program since it was first introduced two years ago.
Before that, a group of dedicated harm reduction organizations across the province heeded the call to do something about the growing opioid epidemic in Canada – an epidemic that Nova Scotia has not been immune to.
The three agencies – Direction 180, Mainline and Ally Centre – worked with the Department of Health and Wellness (DHW) to carry out a demonstration project of handing out THN kits and holding overdose prevention training.
“There were a lot of great learnings that came out of that,” Hudson said. “We recognized that we were experiencing the impacts of the national opioid crisis here in Nova Scotia.”
In Nova Scotia, about 60 people each year die from opioid-related overdose deaths. This number has been holding steady for the last several years.
The demonstration project also proved that it’s important to be proactive in offering a tangible harm reduction tool. Because of this, Take Home Naloxone kits are free, confidential, and you don’t need a prescription.
Hudson brings her background in health promotion to the THN provincial program coordinator position, focusing not only on naloxone itself, but also on harm reduction tactics and the importance of looking at the bigger picture such as impacts on community health and public policy.
“This program and these kits have become a catalyst to have some of those larger conversations around substance use,” Hudson said.
For instance, she said, “If an organization wants to have a kit on hand as part of their emergency preparedness plan, they may start asking the question about what they want to do with substance use policies.”
“Many universities will start asking the right questions around their institutions’ substance use policies and harm reduction tools they can offer to create a safe environment,” she said of how the program has opened up the dialogue.
In 2019, Hudson won a prestigious Gold Level Quality Award for Excellence in mental health and quality Improvements from NSHA. She credits a lot of that success to the groundwork being done by the three harm reduction agencies and their support throughout the process. She also believes that support from leadership and program leads within the DHW and NSHA help make the program a success.
The impact of stigma still remains the biggest challenge for the program, Hudson said.
In her travels and trainings around the province, sometimes she encounters beliefs from people who feel the program is a waste of time and money and may even lead to riskier substance use behavior.
Hudson finds that people who have these concerns and voice them are often open to a larger conversation.
“When people ask me these questions, what I really hear is ‘I want to understand more’ and view it as an opportunity to have a larger discussion and broach some of the sensitive topics that have been left unaddressed,” she said.
“My personal goal and what I think I can bring to the program is to use the training to start some of those bigger conversations about healthy policy, engagement and reducing stigma for the populations that NSHA and other organizations serve.”
Hudson is hopeful that through time and proper engagement, many of the myths people have will be dispelled and that people will adopt a more open-minded view of harm reduction practices, especially if it saves lives.
Take Home Naloxone is a specific tool, but it is not the only tool that is out there for having conversations around community substance use.
In the long-term future, Hudson hopes that the THN program helps shift culture around discussing substance use.
“This is a living, breathing program,” she said.
In the near future, Hudson hopes to continue to expand coverage around Nova Scotia, including in rural emergency departments, which remain a critical access point for many people.
Hudson is aware that there has been some criticism that Take Home Naloxone is not yet available at all emergency departments.
“We’re working to do this strategically so that it is successful,” Hudson said. “We absolutely are looking to build on the great work that is ongoing in the Western Zone emergency departments, as they are the first phase of Take Home Naloxone being available in emergency departments.”
“We want to make sure folks are properly trained and are carrying out the goals of the program properly,” she explained.
In the interim, Hudson emphasizes that there are already over 300 access points where people can go to for a THN kit, currently mostly community pharmacies.
The Take Home message
Hudson wants people to know that the impacts of opioids do not discriminate.
Naloxone is not just for intravenous drug users, but for anyone who is using opioids in any form, whether it be pills or powders, prescription or non-prescription.
Hudson often shares the anecdote of a grandmother using legal prescription pain pills, who accidentally takes her medication incorrectly.
She hopes that people begin to remove the stereotypes that still exist around who can be affected by opioid overdose.
“Overdose Awareness Day is a recognition of those who have lost their life due to overdose,” Hudson said. “On this day, we need to approach people with compassion.“
“We also need to recognize that overdose is preventable.”
Hudson believes that for many people, naloxone has had a profound impact on their well-being, because it shows that someone felt their life was valuable; that someone doesn’t want them to die from an overdose.
To find out more about the Nova Scotia Take Home Naloxone program, or to find out where you can get your free kit, visit http://www.nsnaloxone.com. Pick up yours today.