Part four: The opioid crisis and the B.C. Interior

Services and shortcomings

Interior Health likely to begin operating overdose prevention site in Vernon by end of 2019. (File Photo)

After seeing a drastic spike in overdose numbers prior to 2016, B.C. introduced a targetted response to the opioid epidemic.

Since then, the B.C. Coroners Services has reported that drug-related deaths have decreased. But Dr. Karin Goodison, the medical health officer in Vernon, said the number of deaths is still far too high.

“The latest information we have shows an early downturn of the rates in 2019, which is what we want to see but we have only about four months of data so we have cautious optimism,” she said. “There’s still a lot more we need to do.”

While there are a number of services available to Vernonites struggling with addiction, professionals and those seeking treatment seemingly agree that there is more that can be done. Unfortunately, most of this boils down to funding.

Most fully-equipped programs cost thousands of dollars a month to attend and are often unattainable to those in need.

“It’s pricey and there’s nothing in the North Okanagan except a 10-day treatment program at the Vernon Treatment Centre. I know they have a lot of people go through there but there’s nothing else that was affordable for the common person,” said Brad Houghton, Manager of Addictions Services at Turning Points Collaborative in Vernon. “So if you weren’t able to take a second mortgage on your home or something, how are you going to be able to afford that?”

When Turning Points Collaborative began Bill’s Place about eight years ago, he said the goal was to create a program that was affordable, effective and accessible. Today, over 250 people have successfully graduated from the program. However, there is a large waitlist for those seeking treatment through Turning Points Collaborative. It can often take up to two months for a spot to open up.

“Bill’s Place absolutely changed my life,” said Jocelyn*, a recent graduate from Bill’s Place. “I had to call every day for 30 days to get on that list. You can’t just call once and not call back because that doesn’t show that you really want it and they don’t take people that don’t really want it because it’s hard work and it’s draining but it’s worth it.”

Bill’s place currently holds a capacity of 19 for the first stage of treatment. Eight beds at the recently purchased Haven Place are also available for the second-stage of the sober living program.

“We are constantly full and we were probably getting anywhere from three to five phone calls a week, a lot of them looking for help,” said Houghton. “Actually, a lot of them are looking for detox.”

However, detox centres are not offered in Vernon. The closest centres are located in Kelowna and Kamloops.

“I think it would be fantastic if there was funding available and we could hire some medical staff and look at doing something like detox,” said Houghton. “Just like there’s a waitlist for treatment, there’s a waitlist for detox so I think if they added detox beds, they’d have to add more treatment beds because it’s high risk if someone comes off of a substance and doesn’t jump into treatment right away.”

James*, another successful graduate from Bill’s Place, said that he also hopes that more facilities will be available to combat the current public health crisis.

“If they were to make more government funded treatment facilities, even if the person isn’t successful at first, at least the seed would be planted and they would have some tools so that if things do go sideways, they have options and would be able to pull themselves out,” he said. “I went to treatment and I fell flat on my face when I got out but I had tools and I learned a lot while I was in there. I realized that I could get out of this and I did.”

Today, he is two years sober.

Another program planned for Vernon is an overdose prevention site. While this has been a point of contention and debate throughout the community, many professionals in Vernon have been strong advocates for the project.

“I think the key messages that we want out around the overdose prevention site is that this will simply enable active observation of people who use drugs, and especially because we know we have poison in our drug supply, it will saves lives,” said Goodison. “The other thing this does is connects people to services. Literature tells us that when these services are brought in to communities, it reduces the public use of drugs because people are moving into a space where they feel safe to use.”

She also noted that many studies across Europe and in Canada have shown that this also decreases the amount of improperly discarded used needles around the site as staff are responsible for surveying the area and ensuring cleanliness.

Interior Health is currently waiting for confirmation and staff said they are hoping to begin operating a site in Vernon by the end of 2019.

Editor’s Note: Names* have been changed for anonymity and safety purposes.

Part One: The opioid crisis and the B.C. Interior

Part Two: Overdoses overwhelming in B.C. Interior

Part Three: Services offered to combat Vernon’s opioid crisis

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