KAMLOOPS - ASK Wellness workers are taking the fight against overdose deaths to the street.
Tony Gunning and Karly Bradley love their job, though most may not be envious of them. Every day they walk the neighbourhood around their North Shore office, looking for those in need of help.
“We do outreach community support in hotspot areas where people have been known to use,” Gunning says. “We’re looking for people who may be potentially at risk for overdose; our response is to save them and call 911.”
With the creation of the overdose prevention sites, ASK Wellness has started proactively patrolling the neighbourhood for those in need. That may vary from educating someone on using naloxone, handing out overdose prevention kits or saving a life.
“I’ve done nine in the last year, all successes,” Gunning says. “My last one was 11 minutes of CPR and three Narcan kits before a response.”
Their walks around the area every couple of hours have ingratiated them to the community. With black and neon vests, at first the response was a little uncertain, but Bradley says the community has warmed up.
“At first they were like ‘Oh, I thought you guys were cops,” she says. “Now we chat with them, ask them if they’ve used their kits. Some of them have used, so they’ll come in and refill the naloxone.”
Along with their conversations with the community, the pair offer quick training in how to administer naloxone.
“We were doing a training four or five days ago at Northills Mall,” Gunning says. “We did a training with a young gentleman there and gave him a kit; apparently 45 minutes to an hour later he actually had to use that kit with the training to save someone in the mall.”
Through the training from Bradley and Gunning, a 16-year-old was saved. Gunning says the training wasn’t something set up, the young man was just interested in learning.
“He was just a person that wanted to get a kit that said he had lost numerous family members due to the fentanyl and other opioids over the years,” Gunning says.
While saving lives is the priority for them, the two help out where they can, from taking people into the King Street Clinic to talk to a nurse or doctor about treatment to having conversations with people who may feel forgotten by the rest of society.
“We go every hour and a half, sometimes two hours depending on how busy it is,” Bradley says. “We’re walking. We’re walking and we’re talking and we’re communicating with them.”
The overdose prevention program has been a boon for the community, the pair say, as they're able to be proactive instead of waiting for an overdose.
"When people do want to quit we talk to them about methadone or methadose or suboxone; where they go talk to a doctor about that, where they can register for treatment," Gunnig says. "It’s definetly helped the community in awareness of safety, people are out there using the buddy system now when they get a Narcan kit, they’re actually trained in how to use that."
The sites are due to end at the end of March. The Interior Health Authority hasn’t announced the future of the program as they work towards supervised prevention sites. Gunning says he expects the government to continue the sites, though.
“I think the government will realize that in order to put a stranglehold on the problem, the solutions are going to be endless, it’s not just a matter of getting rid of the compromised person that's using, because it’s not just the person using,” he says. “It’s a problem that’s not going to go away and we just have to do our best to make sure the people that are compromised are safe or have alternatives to quit.”
Meanwhile, the two are enjoying their work, every day.
“I love it, I absolutely love it,” Bradley says. “I’ve been doing this for a month. I’m actually excited to go to work.
“It’s nice to wake up in the morning knowing that you’re actually making a difference,” Gunning says. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
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