A drug overdose symposium was held for the second year in a row in Kelowna on International Drug Overdose Awareness Day.
Drug overdose numbers in B.C. remain staggering.
There were 134 suspected drug overdose deaths in July, 2017. Seventeen of those deaths were in the Interior Health Authority.
Fourteen hundred and 50 people died of drug overdoses in B.C. in 2017. So far this year, 878 more have lost their lives.
The symposium brought together the advocate group Moms Stop the Harm, with service providers, politicians and Interior Health.
One focus of the event was the need to quell the shame and stigma of drug misuse.
“Stigma prevents people from accessing services,” said Interior Health Officer, Dr. Silvina Mema. “Stigma prevents people from asking for help. Stigma is killing people.”
Shame also leads to people hiding their drug use, and using alone, which is not recommended.
“Now with the Good Samaratin (Law), you’re not afraid of calling 911, even if you’re using yourself,” said Helen Jennings with Moms Stop the Harm.
Implemented into law in the spring of 2017, the Good Samaritan Law provides immunity from simple possession charges for those who call 911 in the case of an overdose.
It’s just one change that is meant to reduce the number of opioid and other drug related deaths.
Living Positive Resource Centre is a harm reduction service based in Kelowna.
Among other initiatives, Living Positive hands out naloxone kits free of charge, and shows people how to use them.
Just last month, the centre started offering to test recreational drugs for hidden fentanyl, no questions asked.
“We take a little bit of the sample and mix it with about an ounce of water, then use what looks like a pregnancy strip,” Tamara Jansen said. We put it in, stir it around, let it soak, and it gives either a positive or negative for fentanyl.”
The Living Positive Resource centre first offered the drug testing service ahead of the Centre of Gravity festival in Kelowna’s City Park, where a 17-year-old girl was partying before she died in hospital.