Volunteers preventing overdose deaths in Vancouver demand government help
Published Monday, November 21, 2016 9:23PM EST
Volunteers who have set up a series of pop-up safe injection sites in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside neighbourhood are calling on the provincial and federal governments to intervene in the ongoing fentanyl crisis plaguing drug users.
The founders of the Overdose Prevention Society, a group which has been running pop-up safe drug injection and consumption sites since September, are calling for more injection sites and help from two levels of government.
"The government needs to do something, I don’t know how many times I need to say it, we're doing what we're doing but there but there needs to be more than this, it's ridiculous," said Sarah Blyth, the society's cofounder.
Volunteers with the group offer first-aid supplies, have CPR training and are able to use naloxone, a drug used to combat opioid overdoses.
"We're doing this because there's no one else doing it," she said.
The group has trained 300 volunteers since its inception in September, but Blyth says volunteers can't be relied on forever.
Referencing Vancouver's four pillars drug strategy -- which involves harm reduction, prevention, treatment and enforcement -- Blyth says there is a need for more safe injection sites like Insite.
Health officials say 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 of those deaths.
Blyth says she's worried she'll see a spike in overdoses on Wednesday, due to welfare cheques being distributed.
She says the group will be setting up the sites near banks, in an effort to limit overdoses.
One woman who overdosed at the site, and was saved by volunteers administering naloxone before paramedics arrived, says she had no idea what happened to her.
"I'm fine. I don't know what happened. I'm fine, I'm just embarrassed," Crystal told CTV Vancouver.
Sher admits she's nervous about the prevalence of fentanyl in heroin but says she can't imagine quitting the drug and admits she will have to take her chances.
As community activists call for action, B.C. Premier Christy Clark reiterated the need for a national strategy and called the pop-up injection sites temporary solutions.
"I support a national strategy on opioids," Clark said. "Naloxone, the sites that have been set up, are band aid solutions to a much bigger problem."
Clark says the province has distributed 12,000 Naloxone kits to combat the wave of overdoses but people need to know the risk of taking drugs.
"This is a crisis in our province," she said. "As parents we need to have a discussion with our children about what's going on out there. The drugs available to young people, and middle aged people, now are very different from the drugs we saw when I graduated from high school in Burnaby in 1983."
The federal health minister promised legislative changes to address the ongoing opioid crisis at the end of a summit examining the issue last week.
With a report from CTV Vancouver's Mi-Jung Lee