Pubdate: Fri, 10 Nov 2017
Source: Nelson Star (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Black Press
Author: Bob Hall
Page: A2


The event will feature stories from the front lines

Nelson's Fentanyl Task Force is set to host Growing Hope: A Community 
Conversation on the Current Fentanyl Crisis at Nelson's Hume Hotel on 
Nov. 22. The discussion will feature health care professionals, 
emergency responders, educators and community leaders across the West 

"What will have the biggest effect on death is reducing stigma for
people who are using drugs," says Chloe Sage, an educator at Nelson's
ANKORS who will be part of a seven-person panel of speakers at the
event. "One of the goals of these panels is to be able to talk about
all the issues that involve people who use drugs and people who are at
risk of dying from fentanyl overdose. When we start lowering the
stigma and people can talk about what they are going through, then we
will have less deaths because people will be able to seek the help
they need."

Joining Sage on the panel will be nurse practitioner Zak Matieschyn,
Interior Health mental health educator Karen Leman, Freedom Quest
Youth Services Society representative Julia Webb, Nelson Street
Outreach worker Jeremy Kelly, and Sean and Pat Dooley who will share
their personal experience with addiction.

The Growing Hope event is one of several initiatives being undertaken
by the task force that was formed last November by Nelson Police
Department Chief Paul Burkart who helped pull together more than 40
individuals actively working on dealing with the issue. They invite
the public to come and hear experts who have knowledge and direct
experience with opioid substance use.

"Much of the fentanyl crisis has to do with trauma, drug use, poverty
and homelessness," says Burkart, who has been with the local police
force for 17 years. "We're not going to solve those things in the next
six months. What we need to do is respond to the problem right now and
a vital part of that is harm reduction."

'What we are seeing is unprecedented'

Selkirk College Nursing Program instructor Tammy McLean has been
involved in the health care profession for more than three decades in
hospitals, intensive care units, palliative care and as a
post-secondary educator. A member of the education and prevention
sub-committee of the task force, McLean says the fentanyl crisis is
one of the most troubling issues she has seen in her career.

"What we are seeing is unprecedented," says McLean, who has worked as
a Selkirk College instructor since 2008. "We are on target to seeing
upwards of 1,500 people in our province dying because of opioids this
year. If you compare it to a plane crash with airplanes filled with
375 people each, there are going to be four planes falling from the
sky and everyone on board dying. That's the equivalent of what's going
on right now. We need to have a multi-pronged approach to this."

Selkirk College has been running the Street Nursing Program in Nelson
for more than a decade. Third- and fourth-year students complete their
Bachelor of Nursing degree work with marginalized people who are
homeless, living in shelters or are at the risk of being homeless.
Struggles with substance abuse compounds the plight of the individuals
that students connect with on a regular basis, so having the college
as part of the conversation is an important element of the education.

Students involved in the Street Nursing Program bring a non-judgmental
lens to the work they do on an annual basis, which is vital for
breaking down stigma.

"Meeting people where they are at means they may still be using
substances, but we want to make sure they are safe in how they are
using them," says McLean. "If we can keep them safe, keep them alive -
particularly with fentanyl - then potentially we can support them in
different ways to maybe get them off the streets and maybe find
employment, maybe reconnect with the health care system. Having
addictions is hellish and we just need to meet them where they are at
to provide a good human face."

Parents and youth don't think the crisis affects them

ANKORS (AIDS Network, Outreach and Support Society) has been an active
part of responding to the needs of community members for 25 years.
Harm reduction is an important element of the Nelson-based
organization's mandate and Sage is one of the region's leading experts
in the field. Like most others, the veteran educator is overwhelmed by
the current crisis.

"The numbers of deaths that are happening is astounding," says

"It's quite traumatic for us as frontline workers to be seeing so much
death, more than we have ever seen before. This is an eye into drug
dependency: they are terrified of dying every time they self-medicate
yet they do it anyway because they will get sick if they don't. This
is a very stressful place to be."

One of the most pressing discussions that needs to take place in
regards to fentanyl has little connection to street culture. Of the
target demographics for the Growing Hope event is parents and youth
who don't think that the crisis impacts them.

This is where proper information and resources become an essential
part of the conversation.

"Many people are dying who are dependent on drugs, but there's also a
lot of people dying who are experimenting with drugs," says Sage.
"This is the most dangerous time in history to experiment with
substances, yet people are still doing it. Youth are still doing it.
All through history, no matter what we have said to youth … they are
still doing it. Our approach to this has to be one of harm reduction,
it has to be one where we are able to openly talk about drug use
without there being the stigma and judgement and 'just say no' because
'just say no' has never worked."

It's not the most comfortable conversation to have.

"It's always going to be there, we are not going to end people using
drugs, ever," says Sage. "We have to look at it in a way that is
realistic and for me educating the youth about what drugs are out
there and what strengths and what things can be most dangerous if you
mix them, what are some ways you can use safer … those are the kind of
things that people who are already choosing to use drugs may save
their lives."

Another barrier to finding solutions is ignoring the problem or not
recognizing that those who are addicted have the same right to
opportunity as everyone else.

"If people could just try to see people with whole stories rather than
just see the addiction," says Sage. "When people call people addicts,
they are labeling them as the dependency to the drugs. They are many
things other than that and each person in the world deserves to be
seen as a whole person, a person with passions, a person who has
people that love them, a person who loves other people. That's when we
start to see them as other human beings."

Moving forward instead of standing still

The current crisis has many layers and the underlying issues are
complex. There's only so much local initiatives like the Fentanyl Task
Force can realistically accomplish without support from senior levels
of government. Proper housing, social services and health care require
provincial and federal dollars to really make an impact.

When he talks to colleagues in other communities across the province,
Chief Burkart says the situation in the West Kootenay is not unique
and is on par with larger centres. Instead of getting in line, he says
the support the task force has received from the community at a
grassroots level provides the region with an advantage.

"We have to do something or the numbers will continue to increase
every year," says Burkart. "We wouldn't have these committees if we
didn't think there is going to be an impact. It's multi-faceted and
can seem overwhelming, but it's important that we take it on."

Talking about it with friends, neighbours and loved ones is what will
provide those on the frontlines with a glimmer of light that better
days are ahead.

Growing Hope: A Community Conversation on the Current Fentanyl Crisis at 
Nelson's Hume Hotel will take place between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Nov. 
22. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and seating is limited.

Funding for the event was made possible through the Community Action
Initiative and the Centre for Addiction Research of B.C.
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MAP posted-by: Matt