The ongoing opioid crisis is having an impact on many, including paramedics. (Paul Henderson photo)

LETTER: Compassion needed for those addicted to opioids

First responder speaks from the front lines of the opioid crisis

It has taken me a long time to write this letter. I have been a first responder in B.C. for 35 years. The last 17 in Vernon. And I have PTSD and suffer from compassion burnout. I used to call it compassion fatigue, but i am past fatigue. I have been in the middle of the opioid crisis. I have resuscitated numerous overdoses.

As for compassion, “we are supposed to work on how we view people who use substances.”

I’ll tell you what I viewed. I have been assaulted, sworn at and generally abused after resuscitating someone who was dead! I resuscitated one woman five times in one day!

Each time we were told to “F off” and she would leave. Nine out of 10 times, they will not go to a hospital, because there are rules there. Usually, they leave the hospital before seeing the doctor anyhow.

These same people discard their used needles, which often contain at least a little blood. These needles are often on school playgrounds, or better yet, buried in the sand on the playground. IHA assures us that it’s safe to pick up and discard these needles! If that is the case, why do you never see needles carelessly discarded by first responders or medical personnel?

All needles are immediately disposed of in a safe manner, not left strewn around. Why, because any little drop of blood can contain hepatitis. I would like it if kids were not exposed to it.

READ MORE: Street population keeping Vernon bylaw busy

In my years as a first responder, I talked to many of the people I resuscitated – not all were violent or abusive. Most of the people I talked to lived on the street. The homeless problem and opioid crisis are intertwined.

I asked these people why they didn’t want to live in a shelter or low rent housing. I was told, that those places have rules. You can’t use drugs at these places, for the most part. They all told me, why would I live there. I get fed and clothed at the Mission, I can live where I please, no rules!

These same people will rob you in a minute to get money for drugs. They will defecate and urinate where they please. They get everything they need to use, except heroin. Why obey rules? They also knew that really nothing would be done about it, the police are relatively powerless, cause the court system very rarely pursues any charges.

Now, let’s put a safe injection site in the downtown core. Good idea, except there will be no medical staff on-site. If someone overdoses, but the medical staff will be nearby. Yeah, it’s called an ambulance. Now, let’s put a bathroom facility in the downtown Safeway area because people will walk for miles to use it. Yeah, right! I’ll tell you what it will be used for. Shooting up! I have done numerous overdoses in the washroom facility at the downtown bus loop. Oh, and picked up the needles left on the floor, five feet away from a sharps container.

I have seen addiction and homelessness up close and personal. It is ugly. I have compassion for people who have the common decency to not defecate on my doorstep and are responsible with objects that could inadvertently hurt innocent people. Yes, many of these people would benefit from treatment.

The problem with that is that you have to want treatment and you have to stick with it. You have to confront your inner demons, and I challenge anyone to do that and not want a substance to quell the hurt. It is not easy. You also have to obey rules!

I do not know the answer to the opioid crisis. I do know that what we are doing is not working! The problem is getting worse. I as a taxpayer want everyone to be subject to the same rules.

It is not Ok to defecate or urinate where you want. It is not ok to endanger innocent children with your irresponsible actions. We are enabling these people to be lawless and immoral.

In closing, I understand the stigma. I have PTSD from 35 years of first responding. While no one admits it, there is still, an underlying stigma attached to it. People are going to think how they think.

Some responsibility on the part of the people using the opioids etc., might actually go along way in lessening the stigma. These are my opinions and observations, mine only. I am not looking for apologies or gratification for what I have done. I am merely stating my opinion.

Bob Cail

READ MORE: Overdoses overwhelming in B.C. Interior


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