Members of the community gathered alongside staff of the Central Alberta AIDS Network Society (CAANS) and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) on Monday in support of International Overdose Awareness Day.
The global event is held annually to raise awareness around accidental drug-related overdoses and reduce the stigma of drug-related deaths while acknowledging the effects an overdose related death of a loved one can have on family, friends and communities.
During the local event staff from CAANS and the CMHA heard from around 14 individuals during a ‘sharing circle’ about their personal stories surrounding overdoses, including those who overdosed themselves and survived or those who lost loved ones due to an accidental drug-related overdose.
“One of the reoccurring themes among the sharing circle today was the lack of common knowledge around the fact that if you stop taking drugs for a period time, your tolerance will become lower,” explained Jennifer Vanderschaeghe, executive director of CAANS. “When people then begin taking drugs again they will take what they’ve always taken and we will see higher rates of overdose.”
“We encourage people to never use alone and to know their limits.”
In the first six months of 2015 the Alberta Health Services Central Zone saw 19 overdose deaths related to Fentanyl, a drug 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 40 to 50 times more potent than pharmaceutical grade heroin. Of those deaths, 10 were in Red Deer.
In a means to address the rising Fentanyl-related overdose deaths across the province, Alberta Health Services, in collaboration with the Alberta Community Council on HIV, funded a take home Naloxone kit program.
Naloxone is a drug that can reverse overdose from Fentanyl and other opiates if administered right away via a syringe into muscle.
The overdose prevention drug acts as a rapid blockade of opiate brain receptors in the central nervous system, allowing the individual overdosing more time to make it to an emergency care facility. In order to receive a prescription for Naloxone, opiate users must visit the Street Clinic before receiving take home kits.
Since CAANS began administering the take home Naloxone to opiate users in Red Deer in early July, 46 kits have been handed out with a total of eight kits being used to prevent users from overdosing.
“We did hear from the one person today who used her kit over the weekend,” said Denelle Williams, registered nurse for the Women’s Program at CAANS who assists in training people to use their Naloxone kits. “Her friend who was with her today was there when she overdosed and was blown away – it made her realize she also likely needed a kit.”
Vanderschaege added the fact they have seen the recorded use of eights kits thus far in Red Deer means there are potentially eight lives saved from accidental drug overdoses.
For more information on overdose prevention, visit www.caans.org.