Town Hall Meeting on fentanyl overdose crisis draws large crowd

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The intervention helps to assure users are not gone by the time an ambulance arrives. “We’re out there in the streets where this is happening, and on a shift we’re seeing sometimes 4 or 5 OD’s [overdoses] where the paramedics have had to [be] called.” But Fowler added, “We see OD’s all the time where we’ve managed to get them out of it.”

While these injection ‘witnessing’ pop-up tents are operating outside of our current drug laws, both Chief Constable Adam Palmer of the Vancouver Police Department and Dr. Patricia Daly, Chief Medical Health Officer of the Vancouver Costal Health Authority, spoke out at the Town Hall meeting on their support for the sites.

“The VPD does support harm reduction and the VPD does support these supervised injection sites. The VPD wholeheartedly supports the new initiatives coming forward from the Vancouver Coastal Health that were announced tonight by Dr. Patty Daly.” Palmer stated.

Dr. Patricia Daly brought the room’s awareness to the data showing that, although the response so-far is Vancouver-centric, the overdose deaths are not specific to Vancouver. Rather, they are seen skyrocketing across BC, reaching cities like Surry, Victoria, Kamloops, and beyond: “This is not confined to Vancouver; it’s provincial and we’re seeing it spread to Alberta, and it will spread to the rest of Canada as well.”

Fentanyl and Carfentanil are found as additives in narcotics like heroin, but Daly said that a significant percentage of fentanyl was detected in more common drugs like cocaine. “The coroner detected fentanyl in 5% of illicit-drug overdose deaths in 2012; as of this year it’s up to 59%.

Fentanyl has contaminated our illicit drug supply.” Daly stated that although there are not yet numbers for the province’s November overdose deaths, she fears that they will show the “worst month ever” announcing, “In fact, we’ve had the highest number of visits to our emergency departments this November that we’ve ever seen in Vancouver.”

The need for treatment is clear, but it’s not as available as often thought. Even the VPD still struggles with these answers Chief Constable Palmer explained. “When somebody comes forward to one of our officers, and they’re looking for treatment to get off drugs, we don’t have somewhere that we can take them.”

He cautioned that treatment centre waitlists present a big challenge: “Unless you can strike right then while you have the person with you, you might as well forget it — 10 days [of waiting] is not going to do the job. They need it today.” The message to our officials was clear. “The one pillar we have dropped the ball on in this city and in this province is treatment.” Palmer said.

Despite the challenge ahead, aboriginal activist and musician Dalannah Gail Bowen was able to eloquently address the room, leaving a peaceful and hope-filled message:

“Everything that you do has an impact and a ripple effect throughout this city. We recognize the need for support, alliances, and connectedness. This is not a simple thing; it [can] seem insurmountable, but with our best foot forward, collectively we can have the power to change the situation - just look at what we did at Standing Rock.”

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