Last year, more than 1,400 people across the province died of illicit drug overdoses, causing Dr. Perry Kendall—British Columbia’s first Provincial Health Officer—to declare opioid usage, and its related deaths, a provincial health emergency.
“It’s actually lowering our life expectancy significantly across the province and country,” said Allison Paterson from the Hope and Area Transition Society (HATS), which covers most of the dozen or so communities surrounding Hope, including Agassiz, Harrison, and those in the Fraser Canyon.
In an attempt to reduce those numbers in rural communities, HATS applied for, and was given, a year-long Community Overdose Crisis Grant that they hope to use to reduce stigma around drug use and address which barriers are preventing people from accessing take-home naloxone.
“Naloxone is a first-aid measure just like anything else,” explained Paterson. “It’s just like putting AEDs in arenas and schools—places where (cardiac) incidents occur.”
But they need to better understand how to get take-home naloxone kits to the places where they need to be: the places where people are overdosing alone.
“People on the streets have their community,” said Paterson, who’s leading the grant project. They have people to watch their backs, or call for help should they need it, so it’s “the people using at home alone who are more at risk (for overdosing).”
The project, which Paterson says is a “pilot program,” has been broken down into four phases, which—she hopes—will reveal pathways to either getting naloxone into the hands of every user, or placing it in public locations where it will have a positive impact.
The project’s first phase, which involves information gathering and has a March 31 deadline, will include an anonymous survey and hopes to identify community members and partners who are willing to receive naloxone training. The survey will be available online through Survey Monkey, and circulated at various locations throughout HATS’ coverage area.
The project’s second phase will be training those willing, the third phase will implementing the results from the first phase, and the final phase will be assessing the project’s success through an independent evaluation process.
“There’s only so much you can do in a year to find out where the gaps (in prevention and treatment) exist and reach the people we’re currently not reaching,” said Paterson. “It’s a big undertaking.
But we know “what hasn’t worked,” continued Paterson. “Prohibition didn’t work. The more we criminalize, the more we harm … so we’re getting out into the community, engaging with the public, and (talking about) getting kits into businesses and fostering partnerships with First Nation elders.
We want to do everything and “Anything to increase awareness (because) if more people are willing to have (naloxone ready to help), we can bring it into the light and compare it to the use of an EpiPen,” said Tanya Prest, a peer coordinator with HATS.
“Drugs don’t discriminate,” said Paterson, “everyone is affected. It bares remembering that the 1,400 who died last year, that’s 1,400 families affected and impacted (by opioid overdoses).
“Sooner rather than later we’re all going to know somebody who’s (suffering with opioid addiction), and as long as there’s stigma, (drug use will be driven) underground, where nothing good ever happens.
“Hopefully this (program) will bring things into the light, and (people) will share the answers with us (through the survey), so we can learn what we’re missing and how we can help,” added Paterson.
For more information about the Hope and Area Transition Society, please visit them online at HopeTransition.org. To learn more about HATS’ Community Overdose Crisis Grant, please contact Allison Paterson at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 604-869-5111.