Members of Vernon’s opioid outreach community are making sure COVID-19 isn’t the only public health crisis on people’s minds.
A booth was set up in front of the Vernon library Wednesday, April 22, providing free naloxone kits to those passing by while demonstrating how to administer the medicine in the event of a drug overdose.
The free service was organized by Vernon’s opioid Community Action Team, made up of members from various local outreach groups. Alison Houweling, harm reduction educator at Cammy LaFleur Street Clinic, said factors both related and unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic are currently heightening the chance of overdose in the community.
“Cheque day is coming up, people are getting a little extra money and there’s some really strong or toxic drugs on the street right now, so we’ve been addressing a lot of overdoses,” she said.
“There are people who are stressed and tense about everything, including the scaling back of a lot of the services and a lot of the organizations and services people typically access are closed down right now.”
The street clinic has shut it doors at the Turning Points Collaborative Society to help curb the spread of the pandemic, but still provides outreach services from a van in its parking lot on 24 Avenue.
“Before our building was wonderful in the respect that people could come put their feet up, have a hot chocolate, have a coffee and connect with us,” Houweling said. “But we unfortunately don’t want to do that right now as we don’t want to encourage a lot of interaction between different people from different spaces.”
Houweling said she was encouraged by the amount of interest in the pop-up site in front of the library, adding the plan is to hold more. By 1 p.m. the volunteers had given out 25 naloxone kits.
“People were very interested in learning properly how to administer naloxone, which is fantastic.”
Providing aid to a person experiencing an overdose becomes complicated in a time when governments are encouraging physical distancing. The BC Centre for Disease Control has updated its recommendations for overdose response in light of COVID-19.
Responding to an apparent overdose amid COVID-19
- Stimulate: try to rouse the person, encouraging them to take breaths.
- If no response, call 9-1-1, giving breaths to restore oxygen to the brain and administer naloxone.
- Anyone not responding to the overdose should leave the room or immediate area.
- When using a take-home naloxone kit, put the gloves on and use the face shield/breathing barrier to give rescue breaths. 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 before taking off gloves and wash hands thoroughly.
- If chest compressions are needed, place a towel or piece of clothing overthe person’s nose and mouth to protect yourself from droplets.
Houweling says in most cases responders are familiar with the person having an overdose.
“I typically tell people if they’re living in the same premises and they are interacting anyway, of course give them breaths,” she said.
Shane and Joanne Dallyn are founding members of the Vernon Entrenched People Against Discrimination (VEPAD). The formerly homeless couple helped set up Wednesday’s pop-up booth in partnership with Cammy Lafleur and Interior Health.
“We don’t want to take away from our other epidemic, and that’s the opioid overdose,” Shane said. “I understand where we are now with COVID-19, but it’s gotten pushed to the background a bit.”
The couple demonstrated using a face shield to give life-saving breaths, and administering naloxone, which takes three to five minutes to take effect.
“If they’re without oxygen for too long, you have brain injuries,” he said.
Shane said there’s no easy way around fears of COVID-19 transmission in cases where the breath is needed to revive a person who has overdosed, but says he personally wouldn’t hesitate if it was necessary.
“I would probably not think about it and just do it … I don’t want somebody to die in front of me.”
Shane and Joanne said the public response to their demonstrations was positive in comparison to previous years.
“Before there was so much stigma and people were sort of down on it, now they’re realizing that this is a good thing,” Shane said.
“We don’t want people to forget about the opioid crisis, and we want to be here for them. Because they’re our brothers and sisters.”