Firefighter Scott Mitrenga

Firefighter Scott Mitrenga

2016 Year in Review: City, province scramble for ways to help stop opioid overdoses

NANAIMO - Stronger opioids, safe injection sites, overdoses. The opioid crisis enters 2017 as city contemplate safe injection sites.

As Nanaimo’s opioid crisis deepens, health care officials, social planners and first responders are working to turn the rising tide of overdose cases.

Throughout 2016 Nanaimo saw hundreds of overdose cases; most were connected to fentanyl.

By the end of November, 25 people had died.

Increasingly, deadly opioids are appearing in B.C.’s illicit drug market as communities provincewide respond with safe injection sites that monitor drug users for overdoses and provide services that guide users toward recovery programs.

Dr. Paul Hasselback, central Island medical health officer, is a supervised consumption advocate.

“That’s the term that I prefer using. We know that that’s an effective support for people who are using,” Hasselback said.  “We know that that’s the foot in the door for establishing trusting relationships.”

Cpl. Dave LaBerge, head of Nanaimo RCMP’s Bike Patrol Unit, says supervised consumption catches a segment of drug users, but misses others, such as weekend partiers, who partake in a wide range of drugs potentially cut with fentanyl.

“That’s not to say that it’s not something we should look at, but I don’t know that suddenly Nanaimo is going to be a safer place for fentanyl users,” LaBerge said.

Hasselback says supervised consumption is one of a range of services required to support overdose prevention and addiction management.

“That’s a community discussion and what I’d really like is a good community discussion,” Hasselback said.

The discussion with city council was postponed when the Dec. 19 session ran late, but John Horn, City of Nanaimo social planner, said he thinks Nanaimo will soon embrace supervised consumption as have Victoria, Vancouver, Kamloops, Kelowna and other B.C. communities.

“We’re playing a little bit of catch-up to the bigger cities, but I would suggest that because everyone else in B.C. is scurrying along to get these things in place, we’ll be scurrying along too,” Horn said.