Kits to help bring people back from the brink of an opioid drug overdose are available through several programs via Fraser Health.

Naloxone training becoming common in Chilliwack

Workers, volunteers, residents taking steps to spot and react to overdoses

There are individuals, volunteers and businesses dotted all around Chilliwack who have armed themselves with a naloxone take home kit, and are ready to use them.

They’ve either paid the cost for a kit (about $100) out of pocket, or taken advantage of the free government program. They’ve taken the necessary training to both identify an opioid overdose, and to properly administer the life-saving medication. But for the most part, those who say they are ready to help an overdose victim haven’t had to use them.

A total of 1,422 people in B.C. died of an illicit drug overdose in 2017, the highest ever in this province. Fentanyl was detected in 81 per cent of those deaths.

READ: More than 1,400 people in B.C. died of drug overdoses in 2017

“I have one because of the medication I’m on I can overdose,” said Brie Matryoshka. “I carry it with me and have taken the training and have pulled over and checked on several people I’ve seen while driving to make sure they’re not overdosing.”

Cab driver Pauline Whipple says she doesn’t go anywhere without her kit, either in her cab or her personal vehicle. Like most others who have prepared to help, she says that help hasn’t been necessary yet.

Tamara Brown, who works with Pearl Life Renewal Society downtown Chilliwack, travels with one on hand. Like others who have been trained, she has contact with at-risk people in her work. Local transition houses have trained their staff, as has the Salvation Army, some government offices, and even the downtown-based Alano Club.

Of course, security guards are another type of worker likely to come into contact with a dangerous opioid, or witness an overdose and be close enough to help.

Brian Goldstone from Griffin Security said about a third of their staff of nearly 100 people are already trained. And they’re prepared to train more, too.

“We have just had one of our staff trained as a naloxone instructor with the goal of training all of our staff,” he said. “Last year we revived 163 people. It’s worth taking the training.”

With that increased possibility of witnessing an overdose, the life-saving training is becoming the norm in many occupations and volunteer positions. And that includes first responders, of course.

Carly Turner from the Chilliwack St. John Brigade said that naloxone training is becoming part of their protocol. They are a non-profit volunteer unit that provides first aid services in Chilliwack and the Eastern Fraser Valley, including many public events. Their volunteers receive free training, she said, along with their CPR and other skills.

But not all workers in public areas are ready to handle these types of overdoses — yet. At Chilliwack’s Recreation Excellence sites, including Cheam Centre and the Landing Leisure Centre, suspected overdoses are handled with the help of emergency services.

“Recreation Excellence is not currently providing these kits or services on site,” said Pepper Harrington, facility and administration manager. “While we are aware that societal challenges are growing in this area, we feel that the emergency services are best suited to handle these situations at this time however, this position may change in the future depending on industry standards and recognized needs.”

And at the Chilliwack Library, management relies on their hired, on-site Griffin Security guards. On average, the Chilliwack area libraries experience three to four general disturbances a month, says Jennifer Fehr, communications officer for Fraser Valley Regional Library.

“Incidents can include any number of things, including unusual behavior that may be attributed to unconfirmed drug, alcohol, or mental health related issues,” she said.

How to get a kit

You are eligible for the Take Home Naloxone program through Fraser Health if you:

Have a history of using substances particularly heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine and crystal methamphetamine, or are likely to witness and respond to an overdose (not including health care professionals or clinics for staff use on patients), or are First Nations and living in B.C. The FNHA’s First Nations Health Benefits plan will cover the cost.

The province of British Columbia declared overdoses a public health emergency in April 2016. Fraser Health has been aggressively campaigning to increase education around overdoses. They have a thorough guide online on how to reduce overdose death risks, spot an overdose, obtain a kit, and making an overdose plan for an organization.

There are four programs, including the Take Home Naloxone Program, Facility Overdose Response Box (FORB) Program (for non-government organizations working with clients at risk of overdose), the community pharmacy program, and one for public sector employees.

There is also a quick online guide for anyone to view, called Toward the Heart, that provides basic training.

-with files from Ashley Wadhwani

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