Opioids- Information on Misuse & Overdose

Health Canada has declared the use of opioids a national public health crisis, with 2458 opioid-related deaths in Canada in 2016.  In 2017, there have been 24 confirmed and 5 probable opioid-related deaths in Nova Scotia. In July 2017, the Government of Nova Scotia released their Opioid Use & Overdose Framework   to help tackle the immediate impacts and long term effects of opioid use and overdose in Nova Scotia.

Our Objectives

  • To raise awareness about opioid use, a national public health crisis in Canada.
  • To educate students, faculty, staff and visitors to CBU about how to react in the event of a suspected opioid-related overdose.
  • To inform campus community of support services available on and off campus.

Awareness & Education

Overdose Signs & Symptoms:

Signs & symptoms of a possible opioid overdose are:

  • breathing is slow or not breathing at all
  • nails and/or lips are blue
  • choking or throwing up
  • making gurgling sounds
  • skin is cold and clammy
  • can’t wake them up

If you encounter someone with these signs & symptoms:

  • CALL 911 and follow the directions of the dispatcher (place your phone down and put your phone on hands-free.
  • Do not hang up on the 911 dispatcher.
  • Do not leave the person unattended-stay with them until  Emergency Health Services arrive and take over.
  • If possible, instruct another person to contact Campus Security at (902)578-2316.  Campus Security Officers are equipped with NARCAN (Naloxone)nasal spray and will administer it  if/when directed to by the 911 dispatcher.


There are supports services available if you or someone you know is battling drug addiction, needs someone to talk to or is unsure of where to get help.  Please refer to the following links for more information:

Cape Breton University Counselling Services -CBU’s Personal Counsellors are Clinical Social Workers who work with our students to deal with a variety of issues including anger, parenting, grief, depression and anxiety, relationship issues, family conflict, time management, stress, financial concerns, and couples counseling.

Employee and Family Assistance Program  -is a program available to CBU employees and their family.  Your EFAP provides immediate and confidential assistance for any work, health or life concern.

Nova Scotia Health Authority- Addiction Services  -Mental Health and Addictions (MHA) gives care and support to people with mental health disorders and substance/gambling addictions. This includes health promotion and prevention, and general and specialized treatment programs. These programs include outpatient/community-based programs, home/school-based interventions and inpatient services.

Sharp Advise Needle Exchange Outreach Services (902)539-5556.  Located at 150 Bentinck Street in Sydney (use back door).  The Sharp Advice Needle Exchange is a non-profit community based organization sponsored by the AIDS Coalition of Cape Breton and funded through the Nova Scotia Department of Health Promotion & Protection.

Narcotics Anonymous- A Resource in Your Community  –Anyone who wants to stop using drugs may become a member of Narcotics Anonymous. Membership is not limited to addicts using any particular drug. Those who feel they may have a problem with drugs, legal or illegal, including alcohol, are welcome in NA. Recovery in NA focuses on the problem of addiction, not on any particular drug.


  • What is an opioid?

    Opioids are a broad range of natural and manufactured (synthetic) compounds that are commonly used for pain relief.

    There are three main groups of opioid drugs:

    1. Naturally occurring: These are made from the liquid harvested from the unripe seed pods of the opium poppy flower. Examples include codeine and morphine.
    2. Semi-synthetic: These are made by modifying the chemical structure of a naturally occurring opioid. Examples include heroin and oxycodone.
    3. Synthetic: These compounds are manufactured chemicals. Examples include meperidine and methadone.

    All opioids produce similar effects. The main differences between opioids are their potency (how much drug is needed to produce an effect) and duration of their action (how long the effect(s) last). For example, short-acting opioids need to be taken every three to six hours to maintain the effect, while long-acting opioids need to be taken less often; i.e., only once or twice a day. Some pharmaceutical preparations are designed to release opioids slowly, and therefore, the medication needs to be taken less often.


  • Are opioids addictive?

    All opioids can be addictive, no matter how they are obtained or what they are used for. Addiction refers to the compulsive use of a drug despite negative consequences. Individuals with a personal or family history of substance abuse, including alcohol, may be at higher risk of addiction to opioid pain medications.

    The regular use of opioids, including for medical purposes, can lead to physical dependence, a natural reaction which occurs when the body gets used to having a certain drug in the system. Physical dependence should not be confused with addiction. While a person may be physically dependent on a drug, they are not necessarily addicted. If a person who is physically dependent on an opioid suddenly stops taking it, they will experience symptoms of withdrawal.  These symptoms can be minimized and it is important that patients consult their health care professional prior to ending the use of an opioid medication.

  • What is Fentanyl?


    Fentanyl is a powerful prescription painkiller about 100 X more toxic than morphine.

    It is now being imported and sold illegally with tragic consequences.


    • Fentanyl has been mixed with other drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
    • It has been used in tablets made to look like prescription drugs.
    • Overdoses have occurred where individuals were not aware they were consuming fentanyl.
    • It is odourless and tasteless, and therefore hard to detect.
    • It is often found in powder, pill, liquid and blotter form.
    • 2 milligrams of pure fentanyl (the size of about 4 grains of salt) is enough to kill the average adult.
    • Unintentional exposure to pure fentanyl – touching or inhaling – can cause serious harm including death.
    • Fentanyl-related deaths have been increasing in Canada.

    Fentanyl nicknames include

    Apache, China Girl, China White, Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfella, Green beans, Jackpot, Murder 8, Shady 80s, TNT, and Tango and Cash

  • What is Naloxone (NARCAN)?

    Opioid drugs work by acting on specific receptors found in the brain and in the nervous system.  Naloxone Nasal Spray (NARCAN) stops the opioids from being attached to the receptors and this temporarily reverses the effects until Emergency Services arrive and transport the person to hospital.


  • Can Naloxone cause harm or be abused?

    Naloxone is a very safe drug. It has been approved for use in Canada for over 40 years and is on the World Health Organization List of Essential Medicines. Naloxone only works to block the effects of opioids in the brain and cannot get a person high. For individuals who are dependent on opioids it may cause them to go into temporary withdrawal. Naloxone has no effect on someone who has no opioids in their system.

  • What is the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act?

    The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act provides some legal protection for individuals who seek emergency help during an overdose.

    The act became law on May 4, 2017. It compliments the new Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy, a comprehensive public health approach to substance use. Harm reduction is a key part of the strategy alongside prevention, treatment, and enforcement.

    The act also supports the Federal Action on Opioids and the Joint Statement of Action to address the opioid crisis and prevent further overdose deaths.

    The hope is that the act will help to reduce fear of police attending overdose events and encourage people to help save a life.

    Please click on the link for more information.  Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act