Despite opioid crisis, addicts seeking help still face waits

'Detox is not easily accessible, especially in those moments were people have had enough and they're ready,' council told.

Fentanyl has been found in the bodies of more than 60 per cent of the people who have died of opioid overdoses this year in British Columbia.

Even as British Columbia continues to see a record number of fatal opioid overdoses, those hoping to kick their drug habit often face weeks of delay to get into a treatment facility.

Those were among grim facts Abbotsford council heard Monday at a special committee of the whole meeting dealing solely with the opioid epidemic and harm-reduction issues.

Kindra Breau of Positive Living Fraser Valley explained that clients wanting to get clean often have to go through several meetings over the space of two or three weeks before finally getting placed into a treatment centre.

And as those weeks pass, the drive to get clean can waver.

“In my opinion, detox is not easily accessible, especially in those moments where people have had enough and they’re ready.”

The situation is especially bad for those who are homeless, Breau noted.

Her comments were echoed by Sherri, an opioid user and outreach worker with the Warm Zone who has tried to kick her addiction several times before.

“Once somebody decides to stop, it has to be, ‘OK, they’ve made a decision, let’s get them in there,’ ” Sherri told council. “The window is so short.”

The opioids are so addictive, it stops being a choice, she told council. Sherri said that while she’s currently using, she plans to try to stop soon. Over the last year, she has twice overdosed on fentanyl. Both times, she was saved when her partner administered naloxone, which reverses the symptoms of opioid overdose.

Sherri said dealers don’t properly know how to mix the drug yet, meaning that some doses contain drastically more fentanyl than others.

“We’ve seen a lot of friends die lately,” she said.

Below: The rate of deaths from opioid overdoses has skyrocketed across British Columbia since 2011.

But while deaths from opioid overdoses have reached a new high in 2016, the declaration of a public health emergency earlier this spring came nearly five years after the actual start of the present crisis, Fraser Health medical health officer Andrew Larder said at Monday’s meeting.

Between January and August of 2016, 23 Abbotsford residents died from illicit opioid overdoses, making the city one of the most-affected in the region, Larder said.

In 2016, Abbotsford Regional Hospital’s emergency room has seen around 230 overdose cases, a dramatic increase over past years.

Between July and September, ARH saw nearly 100 suspected opioid overdoses. That’s well above the number seen in all of 2014.

But Larder said that even back in 2011, elements of the current crisis were already showing up, with overdose death rates on the rise across the province.

“The emergency was declared in April of this year, [but] it actually started probably back in 2011,” he told council.

Larder and others who spoke Monday noted that there’s a range of people affected; one-quarter of those who overdose are homeless. Others include those who hide their addiction, men and women who use only occasionally, or – in a couple of cases – youth trying substances for the first time.

Many of those currently using fentanyl and other opioids became addicted after being prescribed such drugs by doctors. Once prescriptions run out, many find themselves addicted and turning to street drugs.

“Prescription opiates have to be contributing to this because we grossly overuse them in this country,” Larder said. “There is a desperate need to deal with how physicians are prescribing opiates and how physicians manage pain.”

Some of that work has already taken place. Earlier this year, the B.C. College of Physicians introduced stricter standards governing when opioids can be prescribed and requiring more discussion of alternatives.

A public forum on fentanyl will be held Oct. 27 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Matsqui Centennial Auditorium. A panel of experts will speak about the growing problem, with representatives from the APD, and Fraser Health. For ages 13 and older.

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