Victoria marked International Overdose Awareness Day, Aug. 31, with an event in Centennial Square. The event was organized by the South Island Community Overdose Response Network with contributions from the Community Action Initiative and the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research.
Booths were set up around the fountain and throughout the square from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. and attendees held space for those who have been lost, discussed decriminalization, accessed resources and drug testing stations and enjoyed a free barbecue.
Live music sets were performed on the main stage along with a Naloxone kit group training session. Audience members were given training kits and asked to follow along with the demonstration led by a volunteer from AIDS Vancouver Island and several sign language translators.
The speaker went through the step-by-step process of calling 911, providing rescue breathing and administering the three Naloxone injections to a person experiencing an overdose. Rescue breathing must be done until paramedics arrive to stave off brain damage and help the person wake up. This can be difficult if you’re alone as you need to give a breath every five seconds while calling 911 and preparing the syringes, said the speaker. They noted that it’s easier when there’s three people as someone can be on the phone, someone can be doing rescue breathing and someone can administer the injection.
The speaker also went over the use of the Narcan nasal spray — a newer method of administering Naloxone to a person overdosing.
The Narcan nasal spray contains 4 milligrams of Naloxone and is the equivalent of five injections so it’s effects last longer., explained Aaron Sihota, a pharmacist from Vancouver who attended the event to offer information and training. It’s also smaller than the Naloxone kits and doesn’t involve needles so they’re more user friendly.
“We have a collective responsibility to act in this crisis,” he said.
The nasal spray is available for free in Ontario and Quebec, but in B.C. it is currently only free for First Nations folks and veterans, Sihota explained. However, on Saturday, the nasal spary kits were being offered for free to all event attendees.
Christine Whiteside, a volunteer with AIDS Vancouver Island, noted that Naloxone kits empower people to take an active role in combating the opioid crisis.
“The training gives people confidence and everyone willing should carry,” said Whiteside. “It’s better to have it and never need it.”
She also noted that for awhile, the majority of the folks who come for training were those currently using opioids and wanting to be able to help others in their community. However, Whiteside noted that now, a lot more people who aren’t opioid users and who don’t work with high-risk folks are getting the training as it has become more destigmatized.
Opioid addiction affects a wide variety of people and it’s best to be prepared at all times, she said. The kits last about three years before expiring as long as they’re kept at room temperature and away from moisture.
“The [International Overdose Awareness Day] event is amazing and there are so many resources available,” said Whiteside. “Everyone has a different reason for coming.”
A candlelight vigil was held at St. John’s The Divine Anglican Church in memory of those who have lost their lives to overdose. those struggling and those recovering. The free vigil was sponsored by the South Island Community Overdose Response Network and Moms Stop The Harm. Music was provided by Jill Cooper and Kathy Broder and attendees were asked to bring photos of loved ones for the memory table.