Vernon council hears details of local opioid overdose crisis - InfoNews

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Vernon council hears details of local opioid overdose crisis

Naloxone with needle and kit in background.
April 09, 2018 - 1:00 PM

VERNON - Interior Health has the second highest death rate in the province when it comes to the opioid overdose crisis, and the figures in Vernon specifically are grim, city council heard this morning.

Medical Health Officer Karen Goodison spoke to Vernon council this morning, April 9, and said the death toll from opioids like fentanyl continues to rise at an alarming rate.

In Vernon, 20 people died of illicit drug overdoses in 2017, up from 12 in 2016 and eight in 2015, Goodison said. Some of the largest demographics affected, Goodison said, are those in the 30 to 39 age bracket, those who have been through the corrections system, First Nations people and those who use drugs alone.

The most common drugs of choice are cocaine, methamphetamines, heroin and fentanyl, Goodison said, adding many people don’t realize their drugs are laced with fentanyl.

Vernon was identified by the province as one of the hardest hit communities in the opioid crisis, making it eligible for up to $100,000 in funding to create Community Action Teams. In Vernon, that group will be the Harm Reduction Team, or HART. The Social Planning Council of the North Okanagan will be the host organization for the team, which is still waiting for more funding details from the province.

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.

As part of Interior Health's harm reduction strategy, Goodison says drug supplies like clean needles are freely handed out to those who need them. Coun. Scott Anderson asked for clarification about whether Vernon has a “needle exchange” program, where used needles are exchanged for new ones.

“It’s actually a needle distribution system,” Goodison said.

She said in the 1990s, users had to bring in needles to get needles — a “one for one” approach — but that was deemed a barrier to accessing clean supplies. Instead, health authorities began giving out harm reduction supplies, no questions asked, along with education and sharps containers for how to safely dispose of them.

“That was demonstrated to be far more effective,” Goodison said.

Interior Health provides funding for monthly needle clean-ups conducted by clients at the Upper Room Mission and Street Outreach Program and recently purchased two industrial style sharps containers for installation in the downtown core. The City of Vernon will select locations for the drop-boxes.

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