April 14, 2016: “Naloxone Ninja” community naloxone training. This was coincidentally already planned to occur on the day that the public health emergency was called. Press coverage of the event included a piece in Burnaby Now and a number of appearances of Impact’s Executive Director, Brian Gross, on CKNW radio.
A surge in drug overdose deaths that led the province to declare a public health emergency in April has motivated organizations working in Burnaby to try to get the life-saving antidote naloxone into the hands of more young people.
Drug overdose deaths in Burnaby have nearly doubled over the last nine years, jumping from nine in 2007 to 16 last year, according to new data released by the B.C. Coroners Service last month.
In 2012, fentanyl was detected – alone or in combination with other drugs – in five per cent of overdose deaths in the province. In 2015, that figure shot up to 32 per cent.
And people under the age of 30, have accounted for an increasing percentage of drug deaths: 29 per cent for the first quarter of 2016, compared to 19 per cent in 2007.
Even before the province declared the health emergency, Brian Gross, project director for Valley Youth Partnership for Engagement and Respect (VYPER) said youth in his program had talked about coming up with ways to keep kids safer.
“A lot of these youth are dealing with friends who are using fentanyl on a daily basis and feel like, ‘What can I do?’” Gross said.
Many didn’t know what naloxone was, he said, and only after they first learned about it, did they start sharing personal stories about times they really could have used it.
“Stories started coming out about having been at parties where there was an overdose and sometimes sitting next to someone who was overdosing, and that was a really horrific experience for them that probably was unspeakable until that moment because it’s so stigmatizing too,” Gross said.
VYPER, a Health Canada-funded program that works with youth throughout the Fraser Health region, decided to approach Fraser Health and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control to partner on a youth-centred naloxone training session.
Odyssey I Substance Abuse Services for Youth and Families, a program that runs out of the Boys and Girls Club in Burnaby, stepped up to provide the venue.
“In recent years, opioid use has become much more mainstream and common amongst Burnaby youth aged 13 to 24,” program coordinator Bridgette Ebing told the NOW in an email. “Youth are dying from accidental overdoses and that trend is continuing. Hosting the naloxone training was an opportunity to support our youth and their families to know about and access a tool that could help save a life.”
Youth working with VYPER designed posters for the event challenging their peers to become “naloxone ninjas.”
The session attracted a total of about 60 participants – about 20 under the age of 25 – and organizers handed out 30 take-home naloxone kits.
To those who might argue providing naloxone to young people could encourage drug abuse, Gross said the issue is complex.
“It would be wonderful if people just didn’t do this and this didn’t happen, but it’s happening,” he said. “The fact is that we have a public health crisis on our hands, and there have been a lot of lives saved as a result of naloxone in the Fraser Health region.”
Gross went on to say events like the naloxone session also do more than distribute the drug; the non-judgmental setting also gives drug-involved youth a chance to make connections with stable, reliable adults.
For more information on naloxone or how to prevent, recognize and respond to a drug overdose, visit towardtheheart.com.