“Don’t use alone.” ~ Island Health

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, January 10 2017

“To people who are using drugs, don’t use alone.”

That’s the key message from Dr. Paul Hasselback, Medical Health Officer with Island Health’s Central region.

Hasselback was speaking to the current crisis involving drug overdoses in BC, in particular drugs containing fentanyl and other opioids.

This past week, Island Health announced it has submitted the first of three planned applications for supervised consumption service locations in Victoria. Work continues to finish the other two applications with a second application expected to be completed in a few weeks.

Hasselback was asked if this is what Island Health is doing in Victoria as part of providing ‘safe sites,’ what is potentially planned for the central island area.

Hasselback said Nanaimo saw a rapid rise in overdoses starting in 2013, and has sustained a high level since that point in time.

He expects the 2016 results to show a 40% increase for Nanaimo. 

“Whereas much of the rest of the island is seeing a two-times increase.

“What we’re seeing is everyone else is coming up to the rates we’ve been seeing in Nanaimo over the past couple years.”

The rest of Central Island, the Alberni Valley, Oceanside (Parksville/Qualicum) and Cowichan areas are where Island Health has seen the overdose increases over the past year.

“We’re also seeing increases in the north island. So the picture is changing from not so good, to really bad, everywhere. 

“We [Nanaimo] were just already there.”

Keeping that in mind, Hasselback said there are different projects and programs being put in place through the region.

“We have the declared public emergency, with emergency responses being put in place.”

“Good stuff is happening, all of which takes time, there’s a long list of new things that are out there.”

He said the School Districts are looking at curriculum inclusion; there are also newer medications to support those who have had habituation with narcotics.

“They used to be called methedone clinics. Now the treatments can be more accessible at a local physicians level.”

(He wasn’t able to say specifically if Gabriola physicians are part of that.)

There is also the unified information systems - where all emergency responders are feeding information back to the health region when overdoses happen.

Whether or not there is a formalized safe site available though, according to Hasselback, the message to people is to not use alone.

“Have someone around that can respond in the event of an overdose and have access to Naloxone.”

He said Island Helath has started discussions in Nanaimo about establishing either a temporary or permanent site in Nanaimo, and now that the Victoria applications are nearing completion, Island Health’s focus is shifting towards Nanaimo.

This past month, an unsanctioned overdose prevention site, which Hasselback called a popup, was established in the parking lot at Nanaimo City Hall.

Hasselback said, “I think it has focused the community’s attention. It might have been helpful in providing a short-term solution in Nanaimo at a location for people that are using.

 “We do expect in the next forseeable future - weeks and months - that we’ll be able to move forward with an interim overdose prevention site - something to use till we have the exemption.”

He said Island Health is in talks with the City of Nanaimo on what could be established.

“I think you’ll hear more within a week. Be aware, things are happening.”

Hasselback added that he hopes, “the muting of the increase that we’re seeing in Nanaimo is because in the Nanaimo area this has been centre focus for a number of years now. 

“Whereas it has become a crisis because of the issue in other areas. We might have been better able to respond to what been’s going on locally.”