***The co-ordinator of the pop up overdose prevention site is in need of a four-walled tent and an outdoor heater for their efforts this week. If you can help email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will forward along your messages.
The community-driven effort to reduce drug overdose deaths in Kelowna is again getting underway.
Chad Smith, a volunteer with Inn from the Cold, will operate a pop-up overdose prevention site at Roxby Park, in Rutland, from Wednesday to Friday this week. Its hours have yet to be established
Smith is taking over from Norah Bowman, who organized the Boxing Day pop-up overdose site when plans for a brick and mortar version in Rutland were scuttled.
“I’ve watched quite a few of the (training) videos and I’ve been around drug use behaviour for a few years,” Smith said, adding that he sleeps over at Inn From the Cold in his capacity as a volunteer.
From that vantage point he can see a shift in Kelowna’s drug culture and a need for these overdose prevention sites.
“Fentanyl has changed everything, especially since the fall,” he said.
There BC Coroner’s office reported that there were 40 drug overdose deaths from January to November of 2016. The mounting number of overdose incidents, fatal and otherwise has created some unfortunate sideline behaviours as well.
Smith said heroin users are going from heroin to cocaine and meth, and new high risk behaviours are emerging.
“They’re using plastic pipes, and they’re breaking, then passing around blood borne illnesses from to lips to lips to lips,” he said.
All in all, it’s clear to Smith that a more organized solution is required.
“Interior Health is going to have a permanent facility very soon, but the problem is that it does take time to get those facilities in place,” said Smith. “This is just a temporary measure so people who do have risky behaviour don’t have to rely on friends if they overdose. They have someone there who is trained to use the Naloxone kit, right there.”
Naloxone, sold under the brandname Narcan among others, is a medication used to block the effects of opioids, especially in overdose
Whether anyone will actually use the site still remains to be seen.
Bowman’s pop-up site wasn’t, but Smith said they are taking a different tack with that in mind.
“Because I do have those connections from Inn from the Cold, we will talk to them and other organizations and let people know what we are doing,” said Smith, adding that they have the support of the health authority and the RCMP as they move forward.
Last week a health authority representative said they supported community driven initiatives, and will be following up with organizers in the days ahead to ensure they are delivered appropriately and safely.
“Interior Health was not involved in the establishment of the “pop up” overdose prevention site, but we appreciate and share the concern the organizers have about overdose deaths and the need for overdose prevention services in the Rutland area,” said Dr. Silvina Mema, Medical Health Officer.
“We continue to look for a location for an IH overdose prevention site in the Rutland area, to complement the site downtown. In the meantime, we will be working with Living Positive Resource Centre to provide enhanced harm reduction services in the Rutland area.”
Interior Health is moving along in the process to get a supervised injection site in the region. In the meantime, an overdose prevention site has been set up downtown for the last couple weeks.
Kelowna is not the only city in BC where overdose prevention efforts are underway.
Vancouver Coastal Health has opened five sites, the most recent being a modified first-aid trailer on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, replacing a pop-up tent that has been operating since September.
Two overdose prevention sites operated by a local social-services organization have opened in Kamloops and the executive director of the group says about 100 people have already used the facilities. Staff at one of the sites successfully dealt with four overdoses over the Christmas weekend.
In Nanaimo, an unsanctioned overdose prevention site that opened Boxing Day in the parking lot of the city hall led to the closure of the facility on Thursday and Friday after unionized workers raised concerns about safety.
The B.C. government declared a public-health emergency as illicit drug overdoses soared earlier this year and recent data from the BC Coroners Service shows 755 people have died between January and November.