Pubdate: Fri, 22 Dec 2017
Source: Metro (Vancouver, CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Metro Canada
Author: Jen St. Denis
Page: 8


New tools are helping - but more needs to be done

December 2016 is seared into the memory of people who live or work
with people from the Downtown Eastside, the epicentre of B.C.'s opioid
overdose crisis.

"People were going down in alleyways," Karen Ward remembers. "It was a
year ago that nine people died in one weekend.

"I remember the night when three people died in my

"BC Ambulance had its busiest day in history, St. Paul's hospital was
fully blocked up and we were seeing the highest rates of overdoses
that we had seen in the emergency room and at Insite," Dr. Mark
Lysyshyn recalls.

"It just seemed to get worse and worse and worse, and in clusters,"
said Sarah Blyth. "It felt like we were not only doing the (Downtown
Eastside Street) Market but tending to overdoses one after the other."

There's disagreement whether the crisis has improved since

Lysyshyn, a medical health office at Vancouver Coastal Health, said
the fatality numbers have started to fall from the peak reached from
December 2016 to April 2017.

This September, 85 people died and in October the number was 91,
compared to 151 deaths in April.

So even though 2017 will certainly see double the deaths than 2016,
"that was the peak and we're coming down from it," Lysyshyn said.

Ward, a member of the Canadian Association for People Who Use Drugs,
doesn't see it that way.

"The level of threat is not acceptable, and to say that the graph
dipped a little bit as if we're tracking the weather is profoundly
disturbing," she said.

But Lysyshyn and Ward do agree that one particular new tool - overdose
prevention sites - has made a dramatic difference in keeping people
from dying.

Along with others from the DTES neighbourhood, Blyth, the manager of
the DTES Street Market, had been running an unsanctioned overdose
prevention site in the alley behind the market starting in September

The site, originally in a tent, offered a place where people could
inject or smoke drugs in the presence of trained volunteers who could
do first aid and call for help in case of an overdose.

In December 2016, the province got on board to support the concept and
to open more of the sites. The sites are much easier and faster to
open than supervised injection sites, and it's that flexibility that
has made them a key tool in the battle to prevent deaths from
overdose, said Lysyshyn.

"Previously when we created supervised injection sites it was a many
years long process of planning and consultation and sometimes by the
time you established the site, it might not even be in the exact right
location," Lysyshyn said, adding that the tent and now trailer behind
the market is still the only site in the city that allows people to
smoke, not just inject, their drugs.

"What we've seen with the overdose prevention sites when they're
established very quickly with the community agency leading it, right
in the place where people need them, they can have a tremendous impact."

Lysyshyn listed other initiatives put in place this year that have
made a difference: drug testing at many of the overdose prevention
sites; rapid access clinics to help people transition to opioid
replacement therapies like suboxone and methadone; and a mobile team
that connects with people who have overdosed with treatment.

When asked what still needs to be done to curb the crisis, Ward and
Blyth want to see more overdose prevention sites open in cities across
Canada. The federal government declaring a national health emergency -
something it has so far refused to do - would make it easier to do
that, Blyth said.

Greater access to safe drugs, such as the prescription heroin program
at Crosstown Clinic, is another ask.

All drugs purchased on the black market are now completely tainted
with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid and the main cause of the
spiking deaths.

"It's not even a political thing. It's across all political
boundaries," Blyth said.

"I don't know how they can meet with mothers and families of victims
and not see this for what it is and do what needs to be done."
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