FILE – A injection kit is seen inside the newly opened Fraser Health supervised consumption site is pictured in Surrey, B.C., Tuesday, June 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

FILE – A injection kit is seen inside the newly opened Fraser Health supervised consumption site is pictured in Surrey, B.C., Tuesday, June 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

‘We’ve been there before’: National phone line launches to prevent overdose deaths

The initiative comes at a time when overdose deaths are spiking

A new Canada-wide phone line aims to prevent deadly overdoses by connecting anyone who is alone and using drugs with peers who can quickly call for help if things take a bad turn.

“People who have experience with overdose, or peers, have kind of a gut feeling or gut sense about what’s happening and what’s going wrong, because we’ve been there before,” said Rebecca Morris-Millerwho founded Grenfell Ministries in Hamilton after years of drug use, homelessness and run-ins with the law.

The National Overdose Response Service, or NORS, is a collaboration between Grenfell Ministries and Brave Technology Co-op, which operates in Vancouver and Columbus, Ohio.

Anyone in Canada using a potentially deadly substance can dial a toll-free number and have someone standing by to call for help if needed. A volunteer checks in periodically and calls 911 if there’s no response.

The caller can also provide contact information in advance for someone nearby with a naloxone kit — a helpful option to reverse an overdose in remote areas with long emergency response times.

The phone line can be a connection to treatment and social services without pressure or judgment, said Morris-Miller.

“You have to meet people where they are at and let them make their journey towards you.”

Grenfell Ministries runs peer support and outreach groups and, in February, set up an overdose response phone line serving Ontario.

NORS is starting out with 16 peer volunteers and is looking for more. A peer can be an active or recovering drug user or a front-line worker.

The initiative comes at a time when overdose deaths are spiking.

A recent federal report says there were 1,628 apparent opioid toxicity deaths between April and June of this year, when the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

That’s a 58 per cent increase from the first three months of the year and the highest quarterly count since Ottawa first started keeping track in 2016.

“We have this awful pandemic going on and people are trying to access services, but a lot of places got closed,” said Grenfell executive director Kim Ritchie.

“The border shut down, so the drugs got cut with wilder and wilder stuff, causing more death.”

Ritchie said everyone involved in the project had a “driving passion” to do something.

“You can’t treat an addict that’s already dead,” she said.

“I’ve buried so many.”

Oona Krieg, Brave’s chief operating officer, said NORS can reach people without cellular data or Wi-Fi.

Brave has several technological offerings to keep drug users safe — all co-designed by people with personal experience — including a mobile app linking drug users with remote supervision.

Other products include buttons that can summon help and sensors that can detect if there is someone motionless inside a washroom or other enclosed space.

“It just seemed like another tool to put in the proverbial tool belt,” Krieg said of NORS. “We need a multitude of solutions. This problem is so incredibly complex, incredibly multi-faceted.”

Dr. Monty Ghosh, a physician who treats vulnerable patients in Edmonton and Calgary, said he learned about what Brave and Grenfell Ministries were doing separately and suggested they link up on a national scale.

He worked on getting Health Canada’s blessing and will evaluate how effective it is.

In 2016, a telehealth patient in northwestern Alberta told Ghosh that he would use drugs with a friend in Edmonton over FaceTime on their cellphones, so each could get help if the other overdosed.

“The patient had a brilliant idea that I felt needed to be implemented,” said Ghosh. Alberta had a remote supervision pilot in the works, but the United Conservative government paused it earlier this year.

Provincial data shows the vast majority of overdose deaths happen in homes and outside downtown cores.

Ghosh added that supervised consumption sites are effective at preventing overdose deaths within a 500-metre radius. NORS is meant to reach drug users who live too far beyond that or would be reluctant to visit a site because of the stigma.

“It really is a life-saving intervention at its core.”

National Overdose Response Service: 1-888-688-NORS (6677)

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

opioidsoverdoseoverdose crisis

Just Posted

Gary Abbott performs a traditional hoop dance, National Aboriginal Peoples Day in Chilliwack, 2016. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Indigenous Peoples’ Day brings a virtual celebration of culture on June 21

Event to showcase Métis dancing, traditional Stólō songs, dancing, pow wows and storytelling

A t-shirt designed by Coast Salish artist Bonny Graham (B. Wyse) includes the phrase ‘every child matters’ in a custom font inspired by Coast Salish design.
Chilliwack FC works with Stó:lō Nation Chiefs Council on t-shirt fundraiser

The youth soccer organization will sell custom-designed orange shirts, donating proceeds to the SNCC

Wilma’s Transition House Charity Golf Tournament takes place Aug. 21, 2021.
Buzz building for 2021 Wilma’s Transition House Charity Golf Tournament

The key fundraiser for the non-profit will be held Aug. 21 at the Cultus Lake Golf Course

Special weather statement issued for Fraser Valley as first summer heat arrives June 20, 2021, and set to persist all week. (Photo by James Day on Unsplash)
Second day of hot temperatures rippling across Fraser Valley

Communities from Abbotsford to Hope will see daytime high maximum temps of 32 degrees

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

The Sacred Hearts church on PIB land burned Monday morning. (Theresa May Jack/Facebook)
Two churches on First Nation land in South Okanagan burn to the ground

Sacred Hearts church on Penticton Indian Band land was reduced to rubble

Tl’etinqox-lead ceremony at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission in Williams Lake, B.C., June 18, 2021. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
‘We are all one people’: Honouring residential school victims and survivors

Love, support and curiousity: Canadians urged to learn about residential schools and their impact

Indigenous rights and climate activists gathered outside Liberty Mutual’s office in Vancouver to pressure the insurance giant to stop covering Trans Mountain. (Photo by Andrew Larigakis)
Activists work to ensure Trans Mountain won’t get insurance

Global campaign urging insurance providers to stay away from Canadian pipeline project

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

In the first election with public money replacing corporate or union donations, B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau and B.C. NDP leader John Horgan take part in election debate at the University of B.C., Oct. 13, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. MLAs ponder 2022 ‘sunset’ of subsidy for political parties

NDP, B.C. Fed call for increase, B.C. Liberals have no comment

Emergency crews shut down White Rock’s Five Corners district on Feb. 19, 2020 following an assault. (File photo)
Trial underway in February 2020 death of White Rock senior

Ross Banner charged with manslaughter following Five Corners altercation

Investigators use a bucket to help recover human remains at a home burned in the Camp fire, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Magalia, Calif. Many of the missing in the deadly Northern California wildfire are elderly residents in Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 north of the destroyed town of Paradise. (AP Photo/John Locher)
‘Forever War’ with fire has California battling forests instead

Five of the state’s largest-ever blazes seared California last year, as authorities tackle prevention

Most Read