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New programs to combat overdose crisis

25/11/2016

Vancouver, BC – Vancouver Coastal Health, PHS Community Services Society and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users are partnering to better respond to the overdose crisis on the streets and in the alleys of the Downtown Eastside. Two new programs are being unveiled today. Both are funded by Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH).

“Vancouver Coastal’s new programs bring peer to peer support to people at high risk of an overdose,” said Health Minister Terry Lake. “These programs are in line with our overall strategy to stem the overdose crisis and to support British Columbians with substance use issues. Teams in the DTES are on the ground, equipped with naloxone, and ready to help save a life when needed.”

The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) has developed an Overdose Prevention Outreach Team. This team is comprised of peers – those with lived experience – who can easily connect with people who use substance. Teams of two will facilitate access to life-saving naloxone kits where appropriate, provide harm reduction guidance including safer injection techniques, collect discarded injection equipment, and respond to overdoses if required.

VCH Medical Health Officer Dr. Mark Lysyshyn says the peers provide a bridge to other health resources, including Insite and the Downtown Community Health Centre. “The Overdose Prevention Outreach Team will help us provide lifesaving services where they are needed the most, and we know, right now, the majority of overdoses occur in and around the Downtown Eastside.”

While the VANDU team will operate largely on foot, another group of peers will work the Downtown Eastside on bicycles.

Spikes on Bikes is an overdose prevention team managed by PHS Community Services Society (PHS). Peers are working in pairs focussing on needle recovery calls in the Downtown Eastside and Oppenheimer Park area. The peers are cycling through alleys and streets, equipped with harm reduction supplies as well as recovery apparatus. They are trained to provide harm reduction education to people who use drugs and provide naloxone in response to overdoses. Spikes on Bikes just launched this week and is operating 12 hours per day, seven days per week.

“Leveraging the expertise and relationships of Spikes on Bikes peers provides a harm reduction strategy that gives this program a unique opportunity to connect with the people who need us, “says PHS Senior Manager of Programs, Coco Culbertson. “Our team understands what it’s like to call an alley home and the struggle of abject poverty, exclusion and the very real threat of overdose death.”

These initiatives support the work of the Joint Task Force on Overdose Response appointed by Premier Christy Clark in July 2016. The task force, headed by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall and Director of Police Services Clayton Pecknold, is providing expert leadership and advice to the Province on additional actions to prevent and respond to overdoses in B.C. As part of the response, law enforcement is working at all levels of government to interdict the supply of toxic drugs, and health officials are working to address the immediate and longer-term health needs. To that end, B.C. is expanding access to life-saving naloxone and opioid addiction treatment medications and services.

Under the task force, the Province launched a broad campaign to alert people of how to prevent, identify and respond to overdoses, and is investing in research, education and training through the new B.C. Centre on Substance Use, to ensure addiction treatment is effective and evidence-based. Ongoing work to support and treat British Columbians with substance use issues is also a key part of the province’s response. Government committed to meet the goal of opening 500 new substance use treatment beds in 2017. In the past two years, more than 220 new beds have been opened as part of this commitment to ensure better access to appropriate substance use supports.

For more information about overdoses and fentanyl please visit vch.ca/overdose.

VCH is responsible for the delivery of $3.4 billion in community, hospital and residential care to more than one million people in communities including Richmond, Vancouver, the North Shore, Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky corridor, Powell River, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.

FOR MEDIA ENQUIRIES: 

Carrie Stefanson
Public Affairs Officer
Vancouver Coastal Health
Office: (604) 708-5338
Cell: (604) 312-1148
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