Vernon-North Okanagan RCMP Supt. Shawna Baher (from left), Annette Sharkey of the Social Planning Council of North Okanagan, Emelia Gazsity, Interior Health substance use and mental health clinician and IH chief medical officer Dr. Karin Goodison display naloxone kits and app training material that will be vital components of a year-long pilot project in Vernon. (Roger Knox/Morning Star)

North Okanagan site of first RCMP naloxone test project

Free kits, training to be provided to high-risk individuals who spend time in cell blocks

Three police departments in B.C. will be piloting various efforts that help combat the opioid crisis as it continues to wreak havoc on communities across the province.

Vernon’s RCMP superintendent knows naloxone saves lives. In fact, said Shawna Baher in a presentation to Vernon council Monday, naloxone has saved more than 500 lives during the current provincial opioid crisis.

Naloxone is a narcotic used in the reversal of acute narcotic respiratory depression and is the focus behind a one-year Vernon pilot project.

The Provincial Opioid Emergency Response Centre has chosen three pilot sites in B.C. in an effort to support individuals at high-risk to overdose who find themselves involved with police.

Abbotsford Police Department will run a peer network; Vancouver Police Department will look at a referral process; and the Vernon-North Okanagan RCMP — the only RCMP outfit selected – will look at handing out naloxone kits and providing naloxone training.

RELATED: VIDEO: How to use naloxone to stop a fentanyl overdose

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“This is about life and saving people,” said Baher, who said the Vernon-North Okanagan RCMP cell block — which is just north of city hall in Spirit Square — held 1,858 prisoners this year, up 18.85 per cent from 2017, and, said Baher and the numbers are going up.

“People brought into our cells will sometimes have withdrawals in custody, and they’re at risk of a hard withdrawal, which requires police officers to take them to hospital to be stabilized, stay there and return them to custody,” she said. “When they’re released from custody, now they’re craving drugs so they use drugs right away and that puts them at risk of an overdose or committing a crime to feed that overdose.”

In a two-year period from September 2016 to September of this year, Vernon-North Okanagan RCMP members attended to 39 people who died of an opioid overdose. The number only includes the calls that police attended. Of those 39, 23 had spent time in a cell block.

The year-long pilot project will be broken into two phases. The first supports individuals living a high-risk lifestyle or at a high-risk to overdose by increasing the knowledge of persons being released from cells that have a high-risk lifestyle by providing training on steps for intervening in a drug overdose and using naloxone.

A free naloxone kit would then be given to those trained individuals on release from custody. They would also get current referral information available in the community.

The RCMP will also be able to use a video/app to provide naloxone training, its and referral information to other individuals associated with persons living a high-risk lifestyle, such as family members.

Phase 2 would be the introduction of Opioid Agonist Treatment while in custody.

“If the program is successful here, we can roll it out to other communities,” said Baher, referring to Armstrong and Enderby detachments which also have cell blocks. The naloxone kits are provided by Interior Health and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control at no cost to the city.

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