Since declaring the opioid crisis a public health emergency in 2016, significant strides have been put in place throughout B.C. to combat the issue.
While programs like Turning Points Collaborative (previously John Howard Society) have long operated in Vernon, Interior Health has also introduced a continuum of substance use services over the past three years in an attempt to combat the troubling number of overdose deaths in the Okanagan.
This continuum is categorized under three different subsections: prevention, harm reduction and treatment/recovery.
“We have been working over the past three years to implement new services based on what research says is the best practice and what the community needs in addition to what is currently offered,” said Colleen McEwan, health service administrator of mental health and substance use services at Interior Health.
The first of these sections is prevention. Interior Health has begun working proactively by hiring an overdose prevention knowledge coordinator to educate residents on the topic and teach people how to properly use naloxone kits, an overdose reversal medication. A program, titled Preventure, is also now being delivered to all Grade 8 students in District 22 to identify those who may be more likely to use substances in the future in an effort to intervene early.
The second aspect of the continuum is harm reduction and includes targeted outreach measures and overdose prevention sites — a site is expected to open in Vernon later this year.
“Our outreach workers are working on the street-level to connect with people who may be contemplating recovery,” said Megan Desimone, manager of mental health and substance use services in Vernon. “We’re really just trying to make those initial connections and reduce some of the harms around what people are using and hopefully work to move these people along the continuum and into treatment.”
The final sector of the three-layered continuum is treatment and recovery.
“This is probably the sector with the biggest part right now, especially in terms of dollars,” Desimone said.
This includes long and short-term counseling, outreach and support workers, intensive day treatment programs, supported recovery beds like those at Bill’s Place or Round Lake Treatment Centre, and Opioid Agonist Treatment (OAT), which includes treatments like suboxone and methadone which are offered through a clinic in downtown Vernon.
According to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, the rapid expansion of harm reduction services has prevented more than 3,000 possible deaths during a 20-month period between 2016 and 2017. A study, released June 5, estimates that without access or harm reduction responses and strategies, the number of deaths in B.C. would be 2.5 times higher.
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