Rash of overdoses at Kelowna's Cornerstone proves overdose prevention sites work: executive director - InfoNews

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Rash of overdoses at Kelowna's Cornerstone proves overdose prevention sites work: executive director

Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
April 03, 2019 - 5:03 PM

KELOWNA - Eight drug overdoses at or near the Cornerstone Emergency Shelter in Kelowna yesterday proves that having safe places to inject illicit drugs does save lives, according to the executive director of the John Howard Society which manages the facility.

Last week, Interior Health issued a warning about a surge in carfentanil overdose deaths so staff at the shelter were on high alert, Dawn Himer said.

“Staff were aware,” she said. “They made sure not to allow more than two users to inject at one time and encouraged them to use lower doses.”

Seven of the eight overdoses yesterday, April 2, were inside the Overdose Prevention Site inside Cornerstone while one was attended by staff outside the building. All the affected users recovered.

There is no confirmation that carfentanil was to blame as Cornerstone does not test the drugs.

Interior Health was alerted as soon as there appeared to be a pattern of overdoses.

The good news is that there have been no further overdoses today, Himer said.

“Word gets out, and they go, ‘I got this guy and he’s got some really good stuff’ so eight or nine go out and buy the stuff,” Himer said. “Then they go ‘oh, man, they’re all dropping so you better not use this.’ They look out for each other, so it sort of self corrects.”

She wants to get the message out that people should not inject alone and, if there is a group of users, at least one should not inject for the 15 to 20 minutes it takes for an overdose to take effect so there’s someone there to help.

“They don’t use to die,” she said. “They use to cover up pain. They don’t do it because they have a choice. They can’t cope and they don’t have other supports. That’s reality.”

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