'Pop-up' injection sites aim to combat overdoses in Vancouver
Published Sunday, November 20, 2016 11:04PM EST
As the federal health minister vows to address the opioid crisis spreading across the country, a group in Vancouver is organizing "pop-up" safe drug injection sites for residents worried about overdosing.
Sarah Blyth and Ann Livingston, longtime community activists, founded the Overdose Prevention Society in September, in a bid to help drug users on the Downtown Eastside who are concerned about overdosing on drugs laced with fentanyl.
"It's like a warzone down here right now and it's really quite scary for the frontline workers," Blyth told CTV Vancouver from an alley off of East Hastings Street.
Volunteers offer first aid supplies, have CPR training and are able to use naloxone, a drug used to combat opioid overdoses.
The group offers to watch drug users take drugs and check on them to see if they're okay. If they’re having problems, or overdosing, volunteers intervene and call paramedics.
The unsanctioned injection sites come after 622 people in British Columbia died from drug overdoses between January and October, compared to 397 in the same time period last year. The BC Coroners Service says they believe fentanyl was involved in 60 per cent those deaths.
In August, Vancouver's supervised drug injection site Insite reported that 86 per cent of drugs tested at the facility in July contained fentanyl.
The rising number of overdoses in Vancouver prompted a public warning from police, after 11 overdoses last Monday. They all occurred in the city's Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.
The group’s work isn't sanctioned by the government, but Blyth says she and other volunteers are not willing to wait for the government to act.
"It's just something that we're here doing because it needs to be done and we can't sit around watching people die in the street," she said.
The group relies on donations through a Go Fund Me page, with $100 needed a day to provide supplies, training for volunteers and cleaning.
Blyth, who has been working for a variety of organizations and groups in the neighbourhood for 10 years, says she's never seen so many overdoses at one time.
Sue Ouelette, who volunteers with the Downtown Eastside Street Market Society, is also committing her free time to help out with the pop-up injection site.
Ouelette had to intervene after one man apparently overdosed on Sunday, administering naloxone and CPR until paramedics were able to arrive.
"It's my neighbourhood and there are far too many people dying," she said. "You can't stop them from using the drug but you can sure as hell stop them from dying."
With files from The Canadian Press and a report from CTV Vancouver's Michelle Brunoro