Photo: Overdose Outreach Team (left to right): Robyn Kelway, Geoff Thompson, Rachel Smith, Jesse Hilburt, Valerie Martin, Chris Dickinson, Erin Isnor, Skye Ruttle.
Vancouver, BC – An East Vancouver dad called the Overdose Outreach Team worried about his adult daughter. She just moved back home, had a history of overdoses and was in withdrawal. Team members Chris and Robyn visited their home, accompanied the daughter to the Rapid Access Addiction Clinic at St. Paul’s Hospital, and she started on opioid agonist therapy that same day.
“Outreach is reaching out and connecting people to care,” says Chris Dickinson, Outreach Worker, Overdose Outreach Team. “This father didn’t know where to begin. We are here to let people know they are supported, and in the event they do want help with substance use, or they have questions about resources, we are here for them.”
Vancouver Coastal Health’s Overdose Outreach Team is made up of four outreach workers and three social workers. Two additional outreach workers are currently being recruited to expand service to Richmond and the North Shore. The team helps clients start treatment for opioid use disorder, connects them to other health and social services, and provides general harm reduction and overdose prevention education.
"Given that the drug supply is so contaminated with fentanyl the team is hyper aware that every person who overdoses could one day be at risk of a fatal overdose. Knowing this drives them to connect with all new referrals as quickly as possible – often on the same day that we receive a referral,” says Misty Bath, manager of the Overdose Outreach Team.
The team has connected with 932 people since May 2017. Most people are referred from emergency departments, after they’ve been treated for an overdose, but anyone can contact the service. “It’s as simple as calling us,” explains Misty Bath. “We’re open to hearing from anyone, including friends or family or directly from people at risk. In this unrelenting overdose crisis we aim to be a beacon of support.”
“For someone who has opioid use disorder, perhaps in addition to other complex problems – it can be overwhelming attempting to navigate the health care system,” Dickinson says. “With outreach we help people who may be unaware of the ranges of services available to them. Like the daughter from East Van, we helped her go to a treatment centre and now she has reconnected with her family. It is absolutely rewarding.”
Outreach workers were previously a part of the Mobile Medical Unit (MMU), situated on the Downtown Eastside to support the response to the crisis, and then officially started as a standalone team in May 2017.
The service is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. but messages can be left anytime at (604) 360-2874.
For further information about overdoses and substance use services visit www.vch.ca/overdose.
Call (604) 360-2874 and visit the Overdose Outreach Team page.