Overdose awareness spread

Sunday marks International Overdose Awareness day and Vernon is not without a plan.


Special to The Morning Star

Sunday marks International Overdose Awareness day and Vernon is not without a plan.

There were 308 illicit drug overdoses in B.C. in 2013, the majority of those included opioids. Opioids, such as heroin, oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine and methadone, suppress breathing, and in cases of overdose, can result in brain damage or even death from oxygen deprivation.

However, overdose does not just occur in people taking illicit opioids but also those taking prescription pills as well.

Canada is the world’s second highest consumer of prescribed opioids and with that come the complications and harms associated with overdose.

In 2008, a harm reduction action team was created from Social Planning’s Partners in Action in Vernon.

The action team committed to a year long process of creating a community-based strategy for harm reduction.  This included hosting a series of community meetings including an initial consultation, a series of focus groups and a final strategy session. Out of this strategy came the implementation of services such as Gateway Shelter for men and women, greater access to harm reduction supplies from a number of distribution sites, a low-barrier walk-in clinic, and preventative education to high risk youth.

As the strategy evolved, overdose was identified as an area requiring further intervention.

The region itself was facing high numbers of opioid overdose deaths — not only illicit use but also people prescribed opioids for pain management.

Vernon jumped on board with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s new program Take Home Naloxone (THN) as the first site outside of Vancouver to offer overdose prevention.

In 2012, through a process of community engagements, the Cammy LaFleur Street Outreach Program adopted the new program for the strategy. With naloxone training and prevention education, unintentional deaths from opioid overdose are preventable.

Naloxone (also known as narcan) is an antidote to an opioid overdose. It is a safe, prescription only medication that reverses the effects of opioids on the body.

In the event of an overdose, naloxone restores normal breathing within 2-5 minutes of administration, but the effects wear off in 30 to 90 minutes. Naloxone cannot be abused, as it has no effect on the body in the absence of opioids. It’s simple, straight forward, and easy to do.

In Vernon, opioid users are trained by the street nurse on how to recognize an overdose and when to use naloxone. Downtown Primary Care and the Vernon Methadone Clinic joined on as partners and prescribers for the program and it officially launched with the first prescription in November of 2012.

Since that time the program has prescribed 95 kits in total with 30 kits reported used. That’s 30 lives in Vernon potentially saved.

The THN program advocates for people who are at risk of overdose to get trained and get a prescription for naloxone.

This includes people using high dose opioids, people on methadone, people living in rural and remote areas and those with known cardiac, respiratory, or kidney disease.

Research shows that teaching about and discussing overdose actually reduces the likelihood of it occurring.

The Cammy LaFleur Street Outreach Program and its community partners value the THN program as part of a continuum of care that is multi-faceted and seeks to address the many issues that are faced by people who use drugs.

The majority of overdoses happen in the company of others and having naloxone available provides an opportunity to save a life and reduce harms while waiting for paramedics to arrive.

If you are interested in learning more about Take Home Naloxone, visit www.towardtheheart.com for a provincial snapshot of what is being done.

Jessica Bridgeman is the street nurse with the Cammy LaFleur Street Nurse Outreach Program operated by North Okanagan Youth and Family Services