Pubdate: Thu, 27 Jul 2017
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Cheryl Chan
Page: A4


Overdose-prevention sites are making a difference in Vancouver's
opioid crisis, say health officials, even in the face of grim figures
that suggest the city is on pace to hit 400 deaths in 2017.

More than 200 people have died of a suspected drug overdose in
Vancouver this year to July 2 - that's almost as many as the 228
deaths recorded in 2016. But officials say the death toll could have
been higher.

"Based on the analysis of experts, the deaths would have been much
worse if those sites hadn't been opened," said Dr. Patricia Daly,
Vancouver Coastal Health's chief medical officer.

Vancouver opened five overdose-prevention sites in December. The sites
provide a place for people to use illicit drugs under the watchful eye
of trained staff or volunteers who can resuscitate them in case of an

According to data from Vancouver police and the fire department, the
ratio of the number of deaths to overdose calls is higher in the
Downtown Eastside, which indicates a higher survival rate once 911 is
called. The ratio is lower in other parts of the city, including parts
of the east side and in south Vancouver.

"We know that 90 per cent of (overdose) deaths occur indoors," said
Daly. "Maybe people are afraid to call 911, afraid of the legal
repercussions or are hiding it from family and friends."

Daly said work needs to be done to address stigma against people who
use drugs because it could be preventing people from seeking medical
help when they need it.

On Wednesday, Vancouver council approved $600,000 to fund programs
aimed to fight stigma against drug users, decrease their isolation and
address the need in the Aboriginal community, which is
over-represented in overdose deaths.

The funds are also earmarked for programs that boost interventions
beyond the Downtown Eastside, where about half of the city's overdose
deaths occur, and pilot projects that test for fentanyl in the drug
supply. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is being mixed with heroine and
cocaine because it is cheap and sold to unknowing users who cannot
regulate their dosage properly.

The city grants will be distributed to non-profit groups as part of
the $3.5 million raised by the city to combat the fentanyl crisis
through a one-time 0.5 per cent increase in property tax.

The majority of the funds went toward supporting firefighters, police
and naloxone training. Naloxone is used to counter the effects of
fentanyl in an overdose victim.

Daly said the health authority has seen some encouraging signs in
recent months, including a drop in the number of overdose cases in
Vancouver emergency departments and a drop in Insite visits.

"We don't know if that's a signal things are improving," she said.
"It's too early to tell.

"But if we continue to make new investments ... and we continue to
work to expanding addiction treatment, we can hopefully sustain those
decreases and see those numbers going down."

Daly estimates it will take a "number of years" to get overdose deaths
down to the level before the crisis, which was labelled a public
health emergency in April 2016.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt