Minister of Health and Community Services John Haggie was livid over comments made to the media by Progressive Conservative MHA Steve Kent on Wednesday.
“Those comments will cost people lives,” Haggie said during question period. “They were irresponsible, they were factually incorrect and they are lethal.”
Two people have died in the province as a result of fentanyl.
“My concern is getting the information out there and asking questions, because more lives will be lost,” said Kent. “I’m fairly confident there will be more (deaths).”
Kent had previously said he had spoken to a street worker who had called the 811 service.
“They went as far as to say that the minister lives in a bit of an ivory tower,” he said. “I recognize that you can be so buried in the work of government that you lose touch with the reality on the ground.”
However, Haggie said the public has gotten the wrong picture.
“People were left with the distinct impression after his comments yesterday that if you’re in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, you have to come to St. John’s. The problem there is that it leaves the impression the stuff isn’t available,” he said.
Kent said the caller found the service to be slightly different than the program outlined by Haggie.
During question period, Haggie explained that he and his staff called the service in light of Kent’s comments and found them to be incorrect.
Haggie said he is concerned people will be discouraged.
“My worry is that for a vulnerable group, one who already has barriers and feels marginalized, that somehow that’s going to stop people from ringing,” he said. “If one person doesn’t ring, that’s on all of us.”
The 811 service covers 74 access sites across the province. Callers are asked for their location, date of birth and name, and are then directed to the nearest Maxolone kit.
Approximately 1,200 kits are available and have a shelf life of two years.
Kent said more needs to be done.
“If (the minister) is concerned about lives, we’d have Naloxone kits available in our high schools, available in more pharmacies,” said Kent. “We need to make them as accessible as possible. That’s what’s going to save lives.”
There have been 17 overdoses across the province.
Haggie reiterated that as a result of the government’s plan, 15 lives had been saved.
Furthermore, the discussion concerning fentanyl and how to react to the crisis is evolving.
“One of the challenges was the issue of how many vials of Naloxone was need per kit,” said Haggie.
The Department of Health and Community Services is assessing the number of vials used in each incident, and is considering increasing the amount of medicine in the kits.
Two vials of Naloxone are currently included in each kit.
Kent said he is concerned about the pricing of kits in pharmacies. He noted the commercial kits available in the province cost about $85.
“I’m upset about it. I want to make sure there are more kits available,” he said. “I’m going to tell the truth, continue to get facts out there and ask questions, whether he likes it or not.”
“I can understand wanting to challenge my leadership or abilities, but to do it with misinformation is potentially very dangerous and has to be called out,” said Haggie.
Haggie said the public needs to be aware of the available services.
“If you think you need one, go get one,” he said.