Pubdate: Sat, 02 Sep 2017
Source: Telegram, The (CN NF)
Copyright: 2017 The Telegram
Author: Victoria Plowman
Page: A3


Advocate sees a role for public health nurses in fighting opioid
crisis in rural communities

The opioid crisis in St. John's is far from over, and a community
advocate wants to see changes.

"We see people every day who are at risk," said Tree Walsh, the harm
reduction manager at the Safe Works Access Program (SWAP) for the AIDS
Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador. "We're trying to save lives,
and we're trying to prevent deaths, but as soon as the pharmaceutical
supply of opioids dries up, which is happening now … things are going
to get so much worse."

Since 2005, SWAP has been distributing safer drug using equipment and
services to St. John's and area, including clean needles, needle
disposal, safe injection information, cookers and more.

The program expanded to Corner Brook in 2010, and is widely known for
its services to smaller communities throughout the province. Both
groups have a van that allows them to travel and offer outreach to
users in need, and they often send supplies through the mail to
communities that normally wouldn't have access to them.

"We'd like to see the government maybe even mandate public health, in
the smallest communities," Walsh said. "People go to the public health
nurse and there's no stigma attached, no judgment … so why can't the
public health nurse distribute safer using equipment, you know? The
network already exists. The people who use the needles are already
living in these communities; why not make it that accessible?

"People come in from all over, to St. John's or to Corner Brook, to
pick up equipment for friends at home, so it's obviously needed in
every community."

Walsh said it's hard to get information from official channels as to
exactly how many opioid-related overdoses there have been. She said
she wrote the Department of Health recently in search of an accurate
number, but hasn't had a response yet.

Anecdotally, Walsh said there's been a recent number of overdose
deaths among cocaine users, and she doesn't think the situation will
improve anytime soon without changes implemented.

"They have a false sense of security because they're not doing
opioids, but everything is laced now … everything," Walsh said.

She said she believes a big part of the opioid problem in St. John's
is the fact that people don't know how to inject themselves properly.

"Physicians are trying to help people stop using so that they can save
their heart, but the heart problems within users is caused by
incorrect injection, so what nurses need to do is teach them to inject
correctly," Walsh told The Telegram.

In honour of the International Overdose Awareness Day this week, SWAP
held a community event at Bannerman Park in St. John's, with free
Naloxone training kit distribution and information provided by
community agencies.

"We need to not only raise awareness, but also to brainstorm. We need
safe injection sites, and we definitely need access to new using
equipment right across the province," Walsh said.

Pairs of shoes were also placed throughout the park, representing
those who have lost their lives through overdose, those affected by it
and those still struggling with addictions. Community members also
purchased fentanyl-testing strips and sold them for a dollar each at
the event - something Walsh thinks the government should be
responsible for distributing.

"The last number of deaths have been coke users - that's why these
test strips were brought in, and even though they are a buck apiece,
they'll let you know if there is fentanyl present in any other drugs,
within a reasonable amount of statistical proof," Walsh said, adding
that if people don't know that the drug is present, they don't
understand the kind of risk they're taking.

"It's so worth it. One buck is not a lot in terms of saving lives."
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