The fentanyl death toll is rising in B.C., but so is local interest in finding solutions to the crisis.
A packed room at the Hume Hotel heard stories and statistics Wednesday evening from a seven-person panel at an event called Growing Hope: A Community Conversation on the Current Fentanyl Crisis, which was put on by Nelson’s Fentanyl Task Force.
Cheryl Dowden, executive director of ANKORS, co-hosted the evening with Nelson Police Department chief Paul Burkart. The event had been planned to run two hours, but ended up stretching to three as the audience peppered speakers with questions.
Dowden said she was encouraged by the amount of community engagement in an issue that has resulted in the deaths of 914 people from January to September this year, according to a report released last week by the B.C. Coroners Service. That number has already shattered last year’s 666 fentanyl-related deaths over 12 months, which at the time was a major increase on the 152 deaths in 2015.
Thirteen deaths related to fentanyl have already occurred in the Kootenay Boundary region this year, which is up from four in 2016.
“If we’re not talking about this, we have our heads in the sand,” said Dowden.
The panel included local nurse practitioner Zak Matieschyn, Breakout founder and Nelson Leafs assistant coach Sean Dooley, Pat Dooley, who sits on the Interior Health Association’s board of directors, Chloe Sage of ANKORS, Julia Webb of Freedom Quest, Karen Leman of Mental Health and Substance Use, and Jeremy Kelly of Nelson Street Outreach.
Matieschyn, who is also an addictions fellow with the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use, opened the evening with a number of disturbing fentanyl statistics, and said the rising death toll would be far worse without awareness-building events like the one Wednesday.
“The point of this is actually quite tremendous and innovative in that a community will get together, all these various stakeholders – business, police, health care professionals, parents – all with a common purpose to address this issue,” he said. “So how do we keep people alive and stop people from dying, but there’s also these deeper issues of why is there addiction in the first place and how can we address those?”
Earlier in the day Matieschyn and Sean Dooley also spoke to students at Mount Sentinel and L.V. Rogers, the latter of which they revealed has four naloxone kits onsite. Dooley, and his mother Pat, spoke about their family’s experience with Dooley’s addiction to painkillers and fentanyl, as well as his recovery process.
Sage discussed ANKORS’ drug checking work. She said nine samples of fentanyl were found at August’s Shambhala Music Festival, and that two-thirds of cocaine tested at ANKORS’ Nelson office has secondary ingredients in it.
Webb, meanwhile, gave advice to the audience for speaking to teenagers about drug use, Leman spoke about recovery supports and various local services that are available, and Kelly shared his experience of a 15-year heroin addiction as well as his difficult recovery.
“I think there are a lot of faces emerging,” said Dowden. “Certainly there are so many people in this room who have been touched, either by substance abuse in their family and they are concerned about the overdose crisis and it may have on their loved ones, or they may have experienced someone who has had an overdose and passed away.”
Dowden said ANKORS applied last month for Health Canada funding for a needs assessment meant to find local answers to the crisis. She said that could include safety and prevention messaging, naloxone kits and training, drug checking and the possible viability of a safe-consumption site.
“We’re looking at the need, we’re exploring this and we want to engage in community conversation about this,” she said.
• The majority of overdose deaths, or 58.5 per cent, this year have occurred in private residences. Just 11.4 per cent have happened outside.
• Just four per cent of overdose deaths had fentanyl detected in 2012. Through September this year fentanyl has been found in 83 per cent of overdose deaths.