Long before a mobile injection site is approved by Health Canada, Kelowna will see a rolling outreach unit open its doors to drug users.
“We will move ahead with establishing mobile units to provide other types of services, such as outreach, opiate agonist therapy, primary care nursing and wound care,” said Dr. Trevor Corneil, chief medical officer with Interior Health, explaining that these services do not need to be sanctioned by the feds.
“Those types of things will prepare us well for when an approval is granted by Health Canada.”
The mobile outreach units will roll out in the next eight to 12 weeks and look like the RVs Canada Blood Services use. What’s different, however, is how they will be operated.
“We are working very hard to put together the specifications and clinical safety requirements for staff and users so we can add to the prevention services we have,” Corneil said.
The health authority will also be working with community groups to find out where the best place to park may be once supervised consumption services are part of what’s offered.
“We would like to have overdose prevention services in a mobile format up and going in eight to 12 weeks in addition to the fixed sites we have,” he said. “We will be layering that into the services we have and in some cases replacing services where there haven’t been the uptake we want.”
Corneil said the supervised injection sites aren’t as important as outreach services, though the latter will be appreciated once given the go-ahead.
Having worked at a supervised injection site in Vancouver, Corneil said that the experience is much different than what many may imagine.
“People who are struggling to deal with their withdrawal often are looking for the fastest way to inject,” said Corneil.
With some cases that means they’re going for the jugular vein in the neck.
“In those cases we could say, ‘hey, that’s probably not the best idea. How about you inject elsewhere, or use smaller amounts to find out what is in the drug to see what impact it has on you?’”
Once they’re high, the wait is five to 10 minutes and the health provider enters the educational portion of the visit.
“We have found they have helped people use in a safer way, decreased the amount they use and also start to engage in safer-use behaviours, which extend into social networks,” he said, adding that’s the hook into therapeutic treatment.
Outreach is just one of many tools being applied to the overdose death crisis.
Fentanyl caused 914 overdose deaths in B.C. last year —48 of which were in Kelowna — which is almost 80 per cent higher than the 510 deaths recorded by the provincial coroner in 2015.
In addition to outreach services and more treatment options, Corneil said that pharmacare for the opioid replacement drug sabaxone has been helpful.
Provincial Health Officer Perry Kendall wants to take it one step further. Noting that fentanyl is killing people from all walks of life, he’s pushing the province to adopt a European-style drug treatment program that includes providing medicinal heroin to patients.
The European programs work, he said in a recent press conference, with evidence of reduced overdose deaths and stable lives for drug users.
Vancouver’s Crosstown Clinic is the only facility in North America that offers medicinal heroin.