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Addictions expert says more injection sites needed to stop overdose deaths

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April 16, 2016 - 9:42 AM

VICTORIA - Two days before Christmas, Debbie Porter was found dead on the floor of her Victoria-area home. She had overdosed on heroin.

"Picture this in your mind: Our daughter was found laying on the floor. That's how quick she went down," her stepfather Fred Lang said of Porter's death after she'd injected the drug.

"Our daughter had done drugs for years," he said Friday. "She knew how to do drugs. But she got a bad batch."

"Our daughter was 48. She hated what she was doing. She tried numerous, numerous times to stop. She lost her family. She lost her future, and it's really, really sad."

Lang said he supports British Columbia's decision Thursday to declare a public health emergency after a dramatic increase in the number of overdose deaths from illicit drugs such as fentanyl.

Drug addiction has its sinister hold on too many Canadians and governments need to look beyond the illegal nature of drug use and examine deeper health and mental health issues connected to addiction, he said.

"The reason I'm doing these interviews is to try and make the connection between mental illness and addiction," said Lang, adding his daughter's personal torment led to her death last Dec. 23 in Langford, B.C.

"It's a health issue," Lang said. "I don't want to seem like a moaner and throw up my hands and say, 'The government should fix it,' because I think we all have a stake in it."

British Columbia's medical health officer Dr. Perry Kendall said Thursday that 201 overdose deaths were recorded in the first three months of 2016 and that 64 of them involved fentanyl, an opioid-based pain killer roughly 100 times stronger than morphine.

He said at the current rate, the total for 2016 could exceed 700 or even 800 deaths despite outreach initiatives, awareness campaigns and the rapid distribution of the drug naloxone, which reverses opioid overdoses.

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake said the declaration will allow health officers to collect real-time information to help them identify patterns and quickly respond with prevention programs, possibly among certain groups or neighbourhoods.

The provincial government said overdoses are only reported now if someone dies, and there is some delay in the information being received from the coroner's office.

Under the emergency declaration, information on the circumstances of any overdose where emergency personnel and health-care workers respond will be reported as quickly as possible to medical health officers at regional health authorities. That information will include the location of an overdose, the drugs used, how they were taken, and the age and sex of the person who has overdosed.

A drug addiction expert at the University of Victoria said Friday that the health emergency declaration is a good first step that could see more supervised injection sites across Canada.

Dr. Bernie Pauly of the Centre for Addictions Research of BC said she supports decriminalizing drugs and focusing on treatment programs.

"It's really an important step because it's an acknowledgment of the crisis we've been facing in communities across British Columbia for quite some time now," she said.

But she said the overdose emergency will eventually require a radical shift in approach where the issue becomes a health-care matter as opposed to criminal.

"What I would call for is a public health approach to drugs in terms of being able to regulate, to decriminalize and regulate substances," Pauly said. "I would frame it as a public health approach where drugs are decriminalized and appropriately regulated."

The Ottawa-based Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse said that between 2009 and 2014, the latest numbers available, toxicology tests from fatal overdoses showed fentanyl was present in 1,019 deaths in Canada, with more than half of them occurring in the latter two years.

Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia have also begun distributing naloxone kits to individuals and first responders to reverse opioid overdoses.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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