The territorial government signalled a shift toward intranasal Naloxone, a type of medication designed to block the effect of opioids, by making the spray freely available in all 33 NWT communities.
The NWT government previously relied on an injectable form of Naloxone, which is typically used to provide emergency relief from an overdose until help can arrive.
Two deaths related to opioids were reported in the territory last year, with none in 2019 up until the end of March, which is the latest available information.
"Intranasal Naloxone is now available anonymously and free of charge at clinics, pharmacies, health centres, and hospitals," the territory's Department of Health and Social Services announced on Tuesday.
"While injectable Naloxone has been available territory-wide since 2016, intranasal Naloxone has become the preferred alternative due to its ease of use and efficacy."
A 2017 study published in the journal Addiction found Naloxone in nasal spray form was as effective as an injection, though one of the report's co-authors noted the spray had "yet to be formally tested in the target population of opioid users."
Glen Abernethy, the NWT's health minister, said Naloxone in spray form was "easier to administer."
Sprays have been available in limited quantities at pharmacies, but did not until now have territorial government backing across the NWT's healthcare network.
In 2016, when the territory first introduced injectable Naloxone kits, a small number of nasal sprays were made available by the territory's health authority as an "interim measure." At the time, the spray – which was relatively new to the market – was hard to acquire in large quantities, the territory said.
Since 2016, 675 of the injectable Naloxone kits have been distributed across the NWT, a health department spokesperson said.
One fentanyl death
The territory is pairing launch of the free nasal spray initiative with a campaign entitled "I'm a Lifesaver," which officials say is intended to "reduce the stigma surrounding harm reduction measures."
The campaign will feature residents Chelsea Thacker, Dean MacInnis, Athena Sharp, and Toni Enns.
These measures are in part the product of an "opioid misuse and overdose task group" created by the territory and partners like the RCMP in 2016, when NWT health centres were seeing a surge of cases related to opioids like fentanyl.
By mid-2016, the NWT had reported 27 overdose deaths in the five years leading up to that point. A study two years later, using 2016 data, said the NWT had some of the highest rates of apparent opioid-related deaths and hospitalization rates in Canada – though rates can be misleading when overall populations are smaller.
The health department said that of eight recorded opioid-related deaths in the NWT since the start of 2016, one was attributed to fentanyl.
In January 2019, the federal government provided half a million dollars to the NWT for opioid addictions treatment initiatives. The territory put forward an additional $260,000 of its own money.