Front line in OD war

Staff at Vernon's Upper Room Mission are some of those on the front line when it comes to the battle against illicit drug overdoses.

Figures by the BC Coroners Service Thursday showed that 16 people in Vernon died from drug overdoses between Jan. 1 to Aug. 31 this year. That is up from the 12 who died last year.

A higher percentage of the deaths are related to the use of the powerful opiod, fentanyl – either on its own or cut with another substance.

Fentanyl can be combatted with another drug called naloxone, and Upper Room Mission staff have been preventing overdose deaths by administering the antidote.

“We have seen quite a few overdoses here at the Upper Room Mission,” said Lisa Anderson, co-executive director of the URM. “It's very heartbreaking to deal with because we serve these people and we love them and it's something we didn't think we would have to deal with but, unfortunately we are seeing it quite often.”

Anderson said managers learned how to administer naloxone late last year after seeing some ODs at the URM.

But the rest of the staff were trained as the numbers grew.

“I've attended to overdoses ten times now. It does have a toll, but we do get support and we do have people we can talk to about what we witnessed and what the situations are.”

Anderson is not surprised by the increasing overdose deaths across the province but stresses that it is not so much the street population that is dying from these drugs.

“It's very sad. Just seeing from the summer of last year up until now, it's not surprising actually. I feel that the deaths are more recreational users. We do lots of support and conversations with the people who come here about 'if you're going to use then use the buddy system and having an naloxone kit'. They are informed and educated on what to do. It's more the recreational users or the people who are using in secret that we see the deaths in, unfortunately.”

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