The limited number of services available to people who use drugs while smoking them in Campbell River is a serious challenge that must be addressed immediately, according to the outgoing community overdose prevention (OPH) provider.
“This is a serious concern, especially after COVID-19 cut off the flow of injecting drugs like heroin to Campbell River,” said Sarah Delaney-Spindler, manager of the Campbell River office at AIDS Vancouver Island (AVI).
AIDS Vancouver Island signed a contract with Island Health to provide overdose prevention (OPS) services on June 1. The new contract was awarded to the Vancouver Island Mental Health Society.
Island Health Officer of Health Dr. Charmaine Enns told the Campbell River Mirror that they were concerned about the “low use of OPS” in Campbell River and wanted to expand the service to more substance users in Campbell River.
Dr. Enns also said that the use of OPS in Campbell River is one of the lowest on Vancouver Island.
Responding to Dr. Enns’ concerns about “low use” in Campbell River, Delaney-Spindler stated that unless overdose prevention services are expanded to include the growing tide of inhalant users in Campbell River, he going to be difficult to increase the percentage of OPS use in Campbell River.
She said that people are turning to more readily available substances like methamphetamine and crack which are consumed by inhalation – smoking.
On May 11, Island Health issued a drug overdose advisory for all of Vancouver Island after an increase in overdose deaths “due to opioids and stimulants with an increased risk of smoking.”
Although the harm reduction services operated by AVI provide specific supplies to the users who inhale these drugs, there is no way to support them in safe consumption. This option is currently only available to people who inject drugs at the OPS center in Campbell River, where an overdose prevention room is available for safe use and monitoring.
Inhalation services consist of a safe space or room with industrial ventilation or an outdoor tent where people can smoke substances and service providers can monitor them to avoid cases of overdose.
There are a large number of inhalant users who are not supported, says Delaney-Spindler based on the data from the harm reduction supplies they distribute.
“The amount of pipes used to smoke crack and methamphetamine that we distribute is quite high,” said Delaney-Spindler.
Delaney-Spindler said that many of the harm reduction clients she has interacted with and who are only inhalation addicts have expressed the disparity they experience when they see injecting people better supported than they are.
OPS providers across Vancouver Island that provide inhalation and injection services are seeing more use of OPS, said Delaney-Spindler.
Since AVI started as an OPS provider in Campbell River in 2017, Delaney-Spindler has said that she has seen an increase in the number of overdose cases related to inhalation medication.
She also said that AVI had repeatedly communicated these concerns to Island Health and that it had also requested funds to set up inhalation services at the OPS center in Campbell River.
Asked about the lack of inhalation services in Campbell River, Island health spokesperson Dominic Abassi replied in an email release: “Island Health signs contracts for overdose prevention services . When a contracted service provider is able to offer assisted inhalation based on local needs and demand, the capacity and suitability of the site, and the ability to mitigate the impact to neighbors, we support them in this process. “