Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Responding to the overdose crisis in Langley

Throughout British Columbia, there is an overdose crisis. This year around 1,000 people in our province will die because of overdosing on illicit drugs. In Langley City and Township, 20 people have died so far, and that number is expected to be 34 by the end of this year.

Fraser Health statistics on overdose deaths in BC. Select image to enlarge.

When people think about overdose deaths, they likely think of people who are living on the street. While people living on the street are dying from overdoses, in Langley around 70% of people are dying from overdoses in their private residence, 20% at other inside locations, and 10% outside.

Fraser Health along with other partner organizations hosted a public meeting last night at Timms Community Centre about this crisis, and their response.

Fentanyl and its derivatives are what is causing the rapid increase in overdose deaths. Langley City’s Fire Chief Rory Thompson spoke about why it is easy to overdose on fentanyl. The following picture shows an example of what illicit pills with fentanyl look like, substituting fentanyl with blue-coloured sugar.

An example of how illicit pills can have inconsistencies. Select image to enlarge.

Because there is no quality control, one pill can have a lot more fentanyl than another in the same batch. One pill could kill you, one wouldn’t.

While the immediate response is getting people naloxone, addressing the stigma associated with drug use, and the systemic barriers to getting treatment, was front and centre at last night’s meeting.

Deb Bailey told the story of her daughter Ola. A bright girl and athlete who died due to a drug overdose. CBC has an article that tells Ola’s story, but Deb summed up what were contributing factors that led to her 21-year-old daughter dying.

Ola was generically vulnerable, and struggled socially to find a group of peers to belong to. She also had documented difficulties that indicated that she needed support, but requests for help were often ignored. Once she became addicted, she faced systemic barriers to getting help including a fragmented health system that wasn’t using the best evidenced-based treatment to help people suffering from addiction. A tainted drug was what ultimately led to Ola’s untimely death.

Deb Bailey talks about how stigma costs us all. Select image to enlarge.

Deb talked about the shame and stigma associated with drug addition, and how that causes people to not get help. People don’t get help because they don’t want others to judge them as “junkies.” Deb told the story of a nurse that didn’t want to get help because she heard how some other nurses talked about people who are suffering from a drug addiction.

The vast majority of people who are addicted to illicit drugs are young men with jobs and a home. Fraser Health and its partners are now starting to reach out to trade unions and other organizations to reduce the stigma associated with drug addiction, so that people will feel less shame, and be more likely to seek help.

At the same time, Langley doctors are now able to prescribe suboxone as a treatment for drug addiction without having to refer people to special addiction doctors.

Our health system is not serving people who are suffering from drug addiction well. It seems that the province is now starting to take this issue seriously, and is making it easier for people to access treatment which seems to be key to reducing the number of people dying from overdoses in our province.

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