Three people linked to Hope die of overdoses in March

Have a plan, have naloxone and use with a buddy, police urge

The BC Centre for Disease Control is encouraging people to help people overdosing by stimulating them, calling 9-1-1 and giving rescue breaths using face shields contained in naloxone kits. Ministry of Health photo

Three people linked to Hope died of suspected drug overdoses in March, Hope RCMP’s Staff Sergeant Karol Rehdner confirmed.

Rehdner said it is not possible to know what substances they may have ingested or whether it may have been linked to a specific batch of drugs entering the community.

“It could have been meth, it could have been fentanyl, I don’t know,” he said. “That said, there were three people that passed away that had a tie to Hope. So that’s enough to raise a red flag.”

The BC Coroners Service has confirmed that one person died March 21 and a second person March 25 in Hope. The Coroners Service stated they are in the early stages of a fact-finding investigation to “determine, how, where, when and by what means the individuals died.” It would be premature, the service stated, for them to speculate on the cause of death during an open investigation.

Rehdner said a third person died in Chilliwack but their residence was in Hope. The identities of the individuals is not released to the public or the media.

“It’s sad when somebody passes away, there’s always ripple effects and there’s people that are caught up in it. There’s always a mom or dad in most cases, there’s family,” Rehdner added.

Following their deaths, Rehdner said he tasked RCMP members to get in touch with individuals in town known to take illicit substances. “From the perspective of keeping them alive, the conversation was not don’t use – that’s always the overriding mantra, understood or expected the fact that wasn’t going to happen overnight,” he said. The message was to “use with a buddy, make sure you have a plan and make sure you have naloxone with you.”

A spokesperson with Fraser Health stated by email on March 24 that the health authority was not seeing an increase in confirmed overdoses in Hope. “We continue to monitor overdoses in communities throughout Fraser Health and should there be an increase in confirmed overdoses, a community alert will be shared,” Aletta Vanderheyden stated.

Whether the deaths had anything to do with the March 18 search warrant executed at a home in Hope, Rehdner could not say. “Whether the drugs were purchased from that location or not, I have no idea,” he said. At the home police located illicit substances including heroin, fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine (crystal meth), as well as paraphernalia, and are now looking to process charges before the courts related to the bust.

Read more: Police seize range of illicit substances in Hope drug bust

Overdose crisis ‘not forgotten’ amid COVID-19: health authorities

It has been four years since B.C.’s opioid overdose crisis was declared a public health emergency. Over 4,700 people have died as a result of illicit drug overdoses in that time.

Late last year, the B.C. Coroners Service found Hope to be one of five communities in the province with the highest rates per capita of illicit drug deaths.

Between 2017 and 2019 the number of overdose deaths per 100,000 population (49.2) was the same in Hope as in Vancouver, the epicentre of the province’s opioid overdose crisis. The numbers, which stretch back to 2009, also show Hope’s death rate is rising as the numbers are falling provincewide.

Marking the four years since the emergency was declared, provincial politicians and health officials are adamant it isn’t being forgotten even with the response to the coronavirus. “We’re not letting this (COVID-19) crisis overtake the importance of our response to our overdose crisis,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said.

Measures people are told to take to stop the spread of COVID-19 – including washing hands frequently and maintaining physical distance – can be difficult to practice if living outside, in a single room occupancy (SRO) or in a shelter the BC Centre for Disease Control states.

For rural and remote communities, people who use drugs have added difficulties with a lack of access to overdose prevention sites and opioid agonist therapies the First Nations Health Authority stated.

The coronavirus and its effects, including respiratory infection and other health problems, can pose a risk to people who use drugs the authority stated. “COVID-19 may increase the risk of overdose death when using opioids, such as fentanyl, because opioids cause our breathing rate to slow down,” FNHA stated. “We also know that COVID-19 is spread through droplets in the breath of those who have COVID-19, and that helping someone breathe is essential to overdose response.”

The BCCCDC is encouraging people to continue to stimulate people who may be overdosing, to call 9-1-1, wear gloves and give rescue breaths using face shields contained in naloxone kits.

READ MORE: Practising Harm Reduction during COVID-19

B.C.’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy also acknowledged the “increasingly toxic street drug supply” being a risk for people who use drugs during the pandemic.

In response, Darcy said new guidelines have gone out for physicians, nurse practitioners and pharmacists to help people experiencing withdrawal and those at risk of overdose. “Safe prescription alternatives to the unpredictable and toxic drug supply can be safely prescribed and delivered to those in greatest need,” she stated. “Importantly, this includes providing safer alternatives for people with addictions to alcohol, opioids, tobacco, stimulants, and benzodiazepines.”

Darcy encouraged people to talk to their health care providers or call 8-1-1 to ask about these options. “In order to benefit from the new guidance, people don’t need to have been accessing substance use treatment already,” she stated. “People living with addiction shouldn’t have to risk their lives to get the safe prescription medication they need.”

The following are tips for people who use drugs and their family and friends, on how to stay safe during COVID-19. Provided by the First Nations Health Authority, who state that this information changes day by day. For the most up-to-date information, consult the BC Centre for Disease Control or First Nations Health Authority websites on COVID-19.  

Practising safer drug use

• ​Do not share supplies, such as cigarettes, joints, pipes, injecting equipment, containers for alcohol, utensils, and other supplies. If you have to share, wipe pipes with alcohol wipes or use new mouthpieces.

• ​To minimize risk, avoid close contact and try to stay at least an arms’ length, ideally two meters (6 feet), from your buddy to avoid passing the virus. Using with a buddy is safer than using alone.

• ​Wash your hands or use wipes before preparing, handling or using your drugs. Prepare your drugs yourself.

• ​Cough or sneeze into your elbow or use tissues. Throw tissues away immediately and wash your hands thoroughly.

• ​Clean surfaces with soap and water, alcohol wipes, bleach or hydrogen peroxide before preparing drugs if possible.

• ​Find “buddies” who can bring you food, harm reduction supplies, medicine, and substances so that you can stay well. You can also be a buddy to those who may need extra support. Check in on your buddies regularly.

• ​If you have a phone buddy, make sure they are nearby, and have them stay on the line and ask them to call 911/emergency response if you become unresponsive.

• ​Carry naloxone and have an overdose plan. If you choose to provide rescue breaths, always use the face shield. It is unclear at this time the degree to which the face shield will protect you from COVID-19 while providing rescue breaths.

For more information on safer use, please check out Vancouver Coastal Health’s pamphlet ‘Safer Use Strategies to Reduce Risk of COVID-19’, the BC Centre for Disease Control’s ‘People Who Use Substances’ web section.

Harm Reduction Supplies and Opioid Agonist Therapies (OAT)

• ​​Make sure you have naloxone.

• ​If you’re on medication-assisted treatment/opioid agonist therapies, check with your pharmacist and provider and ask what their procedures will be if you are self-isolating or they have to close.

• ​Stock up on harm reduction supplies (new syringes and safe use supplies) as you may be self-isolating or the places you get these supplies may have limited staffing or hours.

• ​If possible, try to stock up on your drug of choice. Be safe: Having larger amounts of drugs can be dangerous if you are stopped by police or someone desperate enough to target you for them.

• ​Remember if you have to change dealers, to always go slowly when using from a new supplier.

• ​If possible, test any drugs you may get from a new or unknown source.

• ​You might lose access to your drug of choice in an outbreak. Consider alternative drugs or medications that could help. If facing potential opioid withdrawal, consider buying over-the-counter medications to make it less difficult (ibuprofen, Pepto-Bismol, Imodium). Work with your local pharmacist regarding OAT or access to other medication assisted treatment (e.g. for stimulants or benzodiazepines).

• ​Health Canada is working on exemptions for regulated health care providers (i.e. physicians, nurse practitioners) to ensure access to OAT and other medicines for their patients. For more information health care providers can contact: hc.exemption.sc@canada.ca​

Responding to Overdose

• ​In the event of an overdose, CALL 9-1-1 and continue to follow the SAVE ME steps: Stimulate, Airways, Ventilation, Evaluate, Medicine, Evaluate:

o Stimulate – try and rouse the person, encourage them to take breaths.

o ​If no response; call 9-1-1, give breaths to restore oxygen to the brain and administer naloxone.

o Anyone not responding to the overdose should leave the room or immediate area.

• ​When using a take-home naloxone kit or facility overdose response box

o Put the gloves on and use the face shield/breathing barrier to give rescue breaths.

o ​The face shield has a one-way valve and large impermeable area which protects the responder from respiratory secretions.

• ​After responding, dispose of the face shield first and then take off the gloves and wash/clean your hands thoroughly

• ​If chest compressions are needed, place a towel or a piece of clothing over the person’s nose and mouth to protect yourself from droplets.

• ​Recognizing that information is changing every day, please stay tuned, and continue to check the BC Centre for Disease Control’s web section: ‘People Who Use Substances’.



emelie.peacock@hopestandard.com

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