VERNON - People with lived experience in the opioid overdose crisis will be among those involved in a new community driven response to the deadly epidemic in Vernon.
Identified as one of the hardest hit B.C. communities, Vernon was recently named as one of 18 cities eligible for up to $100,000 each to fund the creation of Community Action Teams to address the opioid overdose crisis.
Those teams are expected to include a mixture of municipal government, Indigenous partners, first responders, front-line community agencies, Divisions of Family Practice, and people and families with lived experience — either living family members or those who have experienced addiction and substance abuse. Provincial branches such as housing, children and families, and poverty reduction will also be at the table, Interior Health says.
Medical Health Officer Dr. Karin Goodison says those groups will together decide how best to spend the $100,000 available in local funding.
“It’s really quite open and flexible. They can use it in a variety of different ways. It will be interesting to see what each community comes up with,” Goodison says.
In Vernon, Goodison says there are already groups working on the opioid crisis, and the new funding will formalize them. She says the beauty of the action teams is that local groups will be able to tailor the response to their own communities.
A community of roughly 40,000 people, Vernon saw 17 drug overdose deaths in the first ten months of 2017. More recent statistics were not immediately available from the B.C. Coroners Service. By comparison, 75 overdosed in Kelowna and 39 in Kamloops. Vernon also reports a high number of non-fatal overdoses.
Emergency room data shows Vernon Jubilee Hospital saw more than 300 suspected overdoses, the second highest in the Interior Health Authority after Kelowna, which had more than 350 cases. No one quite knows why the epidemic is so pronounced in Vernon, but Goodison says that’s something the new action team will be able to look at.
“I think that’s part of the job of the Community Action teams, to look at what things are going on in the community that may potentially be contributing to this. How do we work on improving things? We might be able to find gaps in services or unique features of the population.”
The action teams will focus on four main areas: expanding community-based harm-reduction services; increasing the availability of naloxone; addressing the unsafe drug supply through expanded drug-checking services and increasing connections to addiction-treatment medications; and proactively supporting people at risk of overdose by intervening early to provide services like treatment and housing.
Supervised consumption sites have been operating for some time already in Kelowna and Kamloops, and that could be an idea for Vernon.
“I think certainly that discussion will be had and would be looked at from the community’s perspective,” Goodison says.
She says the new teams are not an advisory group, they are an action group intended to be on the ground, locally driven and rapidly implemented.
Goodison says the opioid epidemic has been challenging for health officials more used to dealing with disease outbreaks.
“We’re having to look for new tools in the toolbox and be creative,” she says. “Some of the latest data does demonstrate from hopeful trends. We can’t predict where this is going to go, but I hope it continues to improve.”
More than 1,400 people overdosed in B.C. last year, according to the B.C. Coroners Service.
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