(The Canadian Press)

(The Canadian Press)

People needing addiction services feeling ‘abandoned’ during pandemic

The province is trying to increase access to addiction care through a phone line of experts, doctors

B.C.’s former provincial health officer says he has “grave concerns” about reduced services because of COVID-19 for people struggling with drug addiction, while the manager of a supervised consumption site in Toronto says people are feeling abandoned.

Dr. Perry Kendall declared an ongoing public health emergency in B.C. four years ago as the province led the country with a record number of overdose deaths fuelled by the opioid fentanyl.

Services were ramped up through more overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites in B.C. as was distribution of take-home kits of naloxone, a medication used to reverse overdoses.

“We were making steps and strides in addressing stigma and creating access to a continuum of care, from harm reduction to medication assistance or to recovery, if that was your goal,” said Kendall, who is co-interim executive director of the BC Centre on Substance Use.

He said widespread job losses and more homelessness due to physical distancing at shelters have created even greater challenges for those battling substance use.

“Hopefully we’ll have the courage and the political will and the money to try and address it when we come through the other side of this. There are very, very, very vulnerable people out there and stigma is still raging.”

Kendall said recent amendments to the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act were a positive move for illicit drug users as doctors can now prescribe a broader range of safer substances, such as stimulants, benzodiazepines and hydromorphone, for those with an addiction to opioids.

However, there aren’t enough prescribers despite a BC Centre on Substance Use program that has offered online training since 2017 in addiction medicine, nor adequate linkages to care, he said.

The province is trying to increase access to addiction care through a phone line of experts, including doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

“We’re working now to set that up as quickly as we can because of this double challenge of the COVID pandemic on top of the opioid overdose epidemic,” said Kendall, who recently returned from retirement to serve on a COVID-19 advisory committee to the provincial health officer.

Jen Ko, program manager of the South Riverdale Community Health Centre in Toronto, said some of the nine overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites in the city have seen their hours cut, including one run by Toronto Public Health after an outbreak of COVID-19 among staff in late March.

“Folks are really isolated, really abandoned,” Ko said, adding that drop-in and meal programs have been suspended for the most vulnerable people, who can no longer make their usual social connection with employees wearing personal protective equipment.

“A lot of the things that people come to the service for are the human services, the connection to the staff, the conversation and support but being in PPE (means) nobody can tell who is who.”

Dr. Rita Shahin, associate medical health officer for Toronto Public Health, said one supervised injection site was closed temporarily on March 18 because of lineups and large groups gathered outside the building.

She said in an email the number of booths where drug users inject their own substances has also been reduced to two from six to maintain physical distancing.

There have also been cases of COVID-19 among staff, including those at the site, Shahin said.

Toronto had its highest number of overdose fatalities in a year last month, when 19 people died, she said.

“We want to encourage people not to use drugs alone, have a naloxone kit on hand and use a supervised consumption service if possible.”

Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, deputy chief medical health officer for the Vancouver Coastal Health authority, said some overdose prevention sites were temporarily closed due to concerns over physical distancing. But others, including the supervised injection facility Insite, continued operating as essential services that don’t require such measures.

Lysyshyn is concerned that visits to the sites have dropped by half in recent weeks.

“Some of this was because we had those temporary closures but it could also be that people are afraid to come to them because they’re worried that they will be exposed to COVID, so the alternative is to use drugs alone, which we know is a super dangerous activity.”

Vancouver police responded to eight suspected overdose deaths in a one-week period last month, the highest number since August after a decline in fatalities over the past year, the city said.

Lysyshyn said access to illicit drugs has been more difficult for users with the Canada-U.S. border closed to non-essential travel, but the new prescribing guidelines have been positive.

“We may see that has helped people and that will move ahead the safe supply programs that were being proposed before the pandemic.”

Kirsten Duncan, a social worker in addiction medicine in acute care at Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria, said the resources discharged patients were referred to have mostly shut down though some have been offering online support.

“But the population we quite often deal with is street entrenched and quite often doesn’t have access to telephones and doesn’t have access to computers,” she said.

“These groups that have huge histories with trauma already, let alone the trauma of the fentanyl crisis, I can’t imagine what another crisis on top of things will do.”

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

It was an opening day filled with blue skies, sun and COVID-19 protocols at Vernon’s SilverStar Mountain Resort Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
VIDEO: Passholders enjoy sunny opening day at Silver Star Mountain

Resort staff say parking reservations, COVID-19 protocols went smoothly Friday, Dec. 4

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
81 new cases of COVID-19 detected in Interior Health Friday

One additional staff member at Kelowna long-term care home tests positive, no new deaths

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Two arrested after attack at Vernon home

Police spotted around 43rd Avenue linked to Wednesday assault

Lumby Mayor Kevin Acton has been re-elected as Regional District of North Okanagan Chair Nov. 18, 2020. (Richard Rolke - Morning Star file)
North Okanagan district re-elects chair, vice-chair

Acton, Shatzko re-elected for third lap as chair, vice-chair

An Armstrong resident shared video of a beaver gnawing away on a stick to Facebook Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. (Robyn Civic Adnoh photo)
WATCH: Beaver gnaws away in Armstrong wetlands

A resident captured video of a beaver chewing happily in a local creek Friday

Pickleball game in Vancouver on Sunday, November 8, 2020. B.C.’s public health restrictions for COVID-19 have been extended to adult team sports, indoors and outside. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
711 more COVID-19 cases detected in B.C. Friday

‘Virus is not letting up and neither can we’

Demonstrators, organized by the Public Fishery Alliance, outside the downtown Vancouver offices of Fisheries and Oceans Canada July 6 demand the marking of all hatchery chinook to allow for a sustainable public fishery while wild stocks recover. (Public Fishery Alliance Facebook photo)
Angry B.C. anglers see petition tabled in House of Commons

Salmon fishers demand better access to the healthy stocks in the public fishery

Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the diplomatic scolding Canada’s envoy to India received on Friday for his recent comments in support of protesting Indian farmers. Tens of thousands of farmers have descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Trudeau brushes off India’s criticism for standing with farmers in anti-Modi protests

The High Commission of India in Ottawa had no comment when contacted Friday

Nurse Kath Olmstead prepares a shot as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway Monday, July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, N.Y. U.S. biotech firm Moderna says its vaccine is showing signs of producing lasting immunity to COVID-19, and that it will have as many as many as 125 million doses available by the end of March. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hans Pennink
Canada orders more COVID vaccines, refines advice on first doses as cases reach 400K

Canada recorded its 300,000th case of COVID-19 on Nov. 16

Apartments are seen lit up in downtown Vancouver as people are encouraged to stay home during the global COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer says provincewide data show the most important area B.C. must tackle in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic is health inequity. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
Age, income among top factors affecting well-being during pandemic, B.C. survey shows

Among respondents earning $20,000 a year or less, more than 41 per cent reported concern about food insecurity

Victoria-based driving instructors are concerned for their own and the community’s safety with the continued number of residents from COVID hotspots in the Lower Mainland coming to the city to take their driving road tests. (Black Press Media file photo)
Students from COVID hotspots travel to Vancouver Island for driving tests

Union leader calls on government to institute stronger travel ban

(Hotel Zed/Flytographer)
Kelowna hotel grants couple 18 years of free stays after making baby on Valentines Day

Hotel Zed has announced the Kelowna couple has received free Valentines Day stays for next 18 years

Damage to window panes at the downtown Salmon Arm Askew’s location could still be seen on Dec. 4. It was apparently caused by a pellet gun overnight on Dec. 2. (Jim Elliot-Salmon Arm Observer)
Windows damaged by pellet gun at both Salmon Arm Askew’s locations

Window panes were shot multiple times overnight on Dec. 2.

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix wears a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19, during an announcement about a new regional cancer centre, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, August 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
PHSA bought faulty respirators; spent money on catering, renovations: Dix

Such spending included ‘unnecessary, unbudgeted renovations’ to the authority’s headquarters in Vancouver

Most Read