Calls for harm reduction

Chelsea Powrie

The program coordinator of the South Okanagan Women in Need Society said she and her staff have been "bursting into tears" due to several recent overdose deaths of women who use their programming.

"We've lost clients that are directly attached to our program, that had one-to-one workers here," Gwen Wain said. "We know that last year, 1,420 people died [from overdoses] in British Columbia, and that was really 1,420 preventable deaths."

That's why Wain believes education and outreach will help alleviate this epidemic. The SOWINS facility in Penticton offers naloxone kits and clean, safe drug parephernalia, as well as a shower, washing machines and food.

"It's really difficult for people to access consistent support and services," Wain said. "When clients come in, we can talk about what their drug of choice is, when they use, how they can use more safely."

She believes stigmas around drug use cause people to hide their addictions, leading to more and more people dying alone.

Andy Watson of the BC Coroners Service could not comment on any overdose statistics for February until the end of the month, but he said they are keeping a close eye on the Okanagan.

"If we had any cause for concern, we would work with [Interior Health] for a public alert," Watson said. "We would come up with a strategy."

The SOWINS drop-in centre has an open door policy from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.

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