Pubdate: Sat, 17 Jun 2017
Source: Prince George Citizen (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Prince George Citizen
Author: Camille Bains
Page: 17


VANCOUVER - Drug users are the solution to addressing overdose deaths
and providing services to people before they die alone, says a woman
who attended a meeting of health professionals in Vancouver trying to
develop new strategies to deal with a growing crisis in B.C.

Karen Ward, a board member of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug
Users, was among about 20 drug users who joined doctors, including the
provincial health officer, and the chief coroner at the all-day
meeting Friday.

Ward lives and works in the Downtown Eastside, where North America's
first supervised injection facility opened in 2003 and multiple
resources are available for people who use illicit substances.

She said there's less stigma in the neighbourhood compared with other
areas where people often don't use available services, such as
overdose prevention sites, because they feel stigmatized.

"We need to emphasize that we are not part of the solution, but
actually we are the solution. Through empowering drug users to take
control of our lives we can find a way out of this," Ward said. "What
we're coming away from thus far in (Friday's) meeting is that first,
the war on drugs has failed. The war on drugs is a war on drug users
and we're dying, thousands of us."

Ward said people in all sectors of society are dying alone in their
homes so support networks need to be spread across the province to
prevent the crisis from escalating further.

The meeting focused on the need for safer alternatives to the current
drug supply and an examination of existing drug policy and stigma
surrounding drug use in a province where 1,400 people have fatally
overdosed since January 2016.

Dr. Mark Tyndall, executive director of the B.C. Centre for Disease
Control, said it's time for policy-makers to use a patient or
client-centred approach to deal with the overdose issue and that drug
users are the ones with the "lived experience."

"The overdose crisis in B.C. and across Canada is not getting better,"
Tyndall said, adding that about 140 people attended the meeting.

The City of Vancouver said Friday that more than 400 people could
fatally overdose in Vancouver this year based on the number of deaths
so far.

"That's more than the total number of overdose deaths in Vancouver for
the previous three years combined with no end in sight," the city said
in a news release.

Twenty-seven people died last month, based on figures from the police
department, the city said. Toxicology reports on the most recent
deaths are not yet complete and the coroner also needs to confirm the
final numbers.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said the city has no idea what the
province did with $10 million in federal funding provided last
February to address the overdose crisis.

Dr. Perry Kendall, the provincial health officer, said money was spent
before the cheque arrived and the rest has been allotted to deal with
the ongoing problem.

Kendall urged parents to talk to their children about the dangers of
potentially deadly illicit opioids. He said in a letter to be
distributed at middle and high schools that 19 youths between the ages
of 14 and 18 have died from overdoses since January 2016.

He said the youngest person was a 14-year-old who was experimenting
with drugs.

"Non-judgmental and supportive conversations about substance use and
overdose risks can save lives."

He said up to two-thirds of overdoses in B.C. are due to the
painkiller fentanyl, which has been detected in other opioids
including heroin, methadone and codeine as well as cocaine, ecstasy
and methamphetamines.

Older children should be encouraged to take responsibility at parties
where drugs may be available and call 911 knowing they will not face
criminal consequences, Kendall said.

He said the overdose-reversing drug naloxone should also be provided
and parents who are illicit drug users themselves should carry it and
be prepared to perform rescue breathing before help arrives,
potentially preventing brain damage.
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