A new service in Campbell River is bringing harm reduction support to people who use drugs in their homes, the site of most fatal overdoses.
AIDS Vancouver Island (AVI) launched the outreach service last month with provincial funds targeting communities hardest hit by the opiate crisis, including the Campbell River.
Harm Reduction Support Workers Ashley Shea and Jesse Atton say the effort is to save lives by meeting people where they are.
"For people who do not feel comfortable entering the AVI and accessing the service here, we can bring them to them in their territory, so to speak," said Shea. "They have the right to use drugs safely."
Launched in mid-October, outreach services are available from Wednesday to Friday, from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The two contact officers circulate in their personal vehicles, a black SUV and a bright orange pickup truck.
It is a mobile version of the overdose prevention website at AVI's central office where people can inject or smell drugs under the supervision of a health professional. This service was launched in May 2017 and reversed about 19 overdoses by the end of September this year.
Barriers that prevent people from using this life-saving feature include shame and stigma about drug use or no access to a vehicle, according to the disclosure team. The result is that people risk their lives using drugs alone or resort to unsafe practices such as reusing syringes.
"I met someone the other day who said they reused a needle for 10 days," Atton said. "And that was because of logistics."
So far this year, 58 percent of illicit drug overdoses have occurred at home, according to BC Coroner.
As part of their outreach work, the team volunteers to supervise people using drugs in their homes, ready with oxygen and naloxone in case of overdose.
They also provide clean syringes and other supplies, referrals to other providers – including opiate replacement treatment and other medical aids – and harm reduction education, such as the use of a naloxone kit.
The educational push is aimed at users and other community members to help build support networks. This includes friends, family, neighbors, and housing providers.
Drug users come from all walks of life, and the outreach team targets not only people who struggle against addiction, but who wants to reduce the harm caused by drug use.
"Everyone knows someone who could use this service," Shea said.
Traders are emerging as the top group at risk of overdose, including those who can use drugs recreationally after leaving a labor camp, Shea said.
She added that common drugs, such as ecstasy or MDMA, often contain fentanyl, making young people vulnerable to overdose.
The outreach team's services are also available to people who use non-illicit drugs, such as seniors who take prescribed morphine or wear a fentanyl patch.
Sarah Sullivan, manager of the AVI offices in Campbell River and Courtenay, said the outreach team is reporting to the province and that a committee of local stakeholders dubbed the "community action team" (CAT).
This committee includes staff from a wide range of groups, including the RCMP, the First Health Authority, Island Health and the City of Campbell River, among others.
The committee is still looking for someone with personal experience on the brink of crisis, including a family member of someone who died of an overdose, said Meribeth Burton, a spokeswoman for Island Health.
"We are proactively looking for people who would be willing to join the CAT Campbell River," she said in an e-mail to Mirror.
The committee – originally created after the province declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in the spring of 2016 – received $ 100,000 this year from the BC. part of a broad-based initiative across the province to combat the opiate crisis.
Of that money, $ 60,000 is going into the AVI managed outreach effort, funding the program from October to June. The rest of the funding is for hiring CAT coordinator and other related efforts, Burton said.
The 18 communities selected for CAT funding are among the hardest hit in B.C., according to the province, which announced funding in February. Two more communities in the Lower Continent were later added.
The North Island had the fifth per capita rate of fatal overdoses in the province last year, with about 30 deaths per 100,000 people. So far this year, the rate has dropped to about 21 per 100,000, but remains several times higher than before the onset of the opiate crisis.
In September this year, 20 deaths from overdose of illicit drugs occurred in the North Island region. There were no records of overdose deaths at overdose prevention sites or supervised consumption sites anywhere in B.C.
AVI's outreach team services are available to people in the Campbell River area, but residents of remote areas may also request referrals. The team can be contacted through the AVI office at (250) 830-0787, by phone (250) 203-0777 or by email at [email protected] and [email protected]