Pubdate: Tue, 19 Apr 2016
Source: Nanaimo News Bulletin (CN BC)
Copyright: 2016, BC Newspaper Group
Author: John McKinley


Medical Health Officer Hopes To Launch Discussion About Safe Consumption Sites

An Island Health medical health officer hopes the public health 
emergency declared across B.C. today can launch a serious discussion 
about safe consumption sites on Vancouver Island.

The province declared an unprecedented state of emergency this 
morning in response to an epidemic of drug-related deaths so far this year.

Victoria and Nanaimo are ground zero on the Island, which has added 
more than 40 people to a 2016 provincial body count that is on pace 
to obliterate last year's total of 474 overdose deaths by more than 300 people.

Vancouver Island medical health officer Dr. Paul Hasselback said the 
death rate is evidence of how communities need to consider places 
where people can inject, inhale or swallow drugs with the supervision 
of a health professional.

"I think the most important thing it does is that it helps highlight 
the severity of the situation," Hasselback said. "This is an unusual 
circumstance. This will legitimize it. We can't have an emergency and 
not do anything different."

Hasselback first publicly brought up the issue of safe consumption 
sites last month in an interview with the Nanaimo News Bulletin. It 
followed on the heels of a Canadian Press story in February that 
Island Health had started talks with Victoria city officials and 
police about supervised injection sites there.

Provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall declared the public 
health emergency today to allow medical health officers to collect 
real-time information on overdoses in order to identify immediately 
where risks are arising and be proactive in warning and protecting 
people who use drugs.

"The recent surge in overdoses is a huge concern for us," Health 
Minister Terry Lake said in a media release. "We have to do what's 
needed to prevent overdoses and deaths, and what's needed is 
real-time information. Medical health officers need immediate access 
to what's happening and where so they can deploy the necessary 
strategies to prevent these tragedies."

Currently, information on overdoses is only reported if someone dies. 
The emergency declaration should increase access to the information 
and accelerate the speed with which it is shared.

Hasselback said the changes are not about compromising people's 
privacy. They are about saving lives.

"Health authorities have consistently asked for more data that will 
help inform responses and prevent future overdoses," Kendall said. 
"This is the first step in making that happen.

"Over the next few weeks, I'll work with medical health officers, 
health authorities, emergency room staff, paramedics and other first 
responders and the BC Coroners Service to determine how best to 
collect and share the data."

The ministry expects the data to help prevent future overdoses and 
deaths by better targeting outreach, bad drug warnings, awareness 
campaigns and distribution of naloxone training and kits, the release 
states. It will help health care workers connect with vulnerable 
communities and provide take-home naloxone to the people who need it.

On the Island, the epidemic is concentrated in its two biggest 
population centres. According to Hasselback, in just three months, 
Nanaimo already is just one death shy of its three-year annual average of 17.

"We have seen some in other communities, but the vast majority are in 
greater Victoria and the Nanaimo region," he said.

A total of 76 deaths in B.C. January was the largest number of deaths 
in a single month since at least 2007.

Many of the deaths are linked to the synthetic drug fentanyl, which 
is increasingly being unknowingly ingested by users after being cut 
into other drugs like cocaine and heroin.

Naloxone - used to reverse overdoses involving opioids like fentanyl 
- - is now available without a prescription at a number of locations in 
many Vancouver Island communities. Check for 
one nearest you.

Hasselback said communities have to understand the gravity of the 
situation and realize that every harm reduction option needs to be 
part of the discussion. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D