Frank Osawamick and Galen Rigter make up the AIDS Vancouver Island Harm Reduction and Overdose Response Team. The mobile outreach team meets people where they’re at and provides them with harm reduction supplies or they can be on hand with overdose prevention supplies. Photo by Jolene Rudisuela

Frank Osawamick and Galen Rigter make up the AIDS Vancouver Island Harm Reduction and Overdose Response Team. The mobile outreach team meets people where they’re at and provides them with harm reduction supplies or they can be on hand with overdose prevention supplies. Photo by Jolene Rudisuela

Comox Valley mobile harm reduction team hits the road to prevent overdoses

The team provides witnessed consumption, harm reduction supplies and safe use education

In an effort to ensure safe substance use and to save lives, AIDS Vancouver Island’s Harm Reduction and Overdose Response Team has hit the Comox Valley streets.

The unique service has been operating for about a month as part of a six-month pilot project funded by the Opioid Emergency Response Centre.

Though AVI offers harm reduction supplies and has its own safe injection site, the stigma surrounding drug use, as well as physical limitations, may prevent people from accessing these services at the downtown location. That’s where the two-person mobile team comes in.

Galen Rigter and Frank Osawamick are the outreach workers behind the response team and are out in the community Wednesday to Friday spreading the word about the service and coming to the aid of those who need it. People need only call a number and the response team will discreetly come to them.

“We’ll physically go to their home or trailer or in a tent or at a park. If they feel that they’re at risk, we’ll sit with them while they use and monitor them in case of an overdose,” said Rigter.

Rigter and Osawamick are both trained in overdose response and carry naloxone and oxygen to immediately reverse an overdose. They will also provide harm reduction supplies such as clean syringes, cookers or tourniquets to reduce the risk of contracting diseases.

Nearly 80 per cent of overdose deaths in British Columbia happen in private residences and Rigter says the majority are middle-aged men who are using alone.

“We feel that’s completely preventable and it’s mainly due to the stigma of using drugs. They’re doing it in secret, they’re doing it in private and if you’re alone and something goes wrong, you can’t really help yourself,” he said.

The response team also carries fentanyl testing kits which they can use to determine if a person’s drugs contain the opioid. Rigter says it is important that people are educated about the presence of fentanyl and that they take precautions such as only taking half a dose.

“These days with the fentanyl crisis that we’re all going through, you can be very certain that whatever drugs you are purchasing do contain fentanyl,” said Rigter. “It’s just where we are these days. And all it can take is that one time where the dose is higher than your body can handle and it can happen very very quickly.”

He adds that the response team is not trying to change people’s lifestyles, but rather promote safe practices.

“We’re not telling people you need to get sober, we’re not telling people you need to change how you live your life, we’re just offering the safest way possible for people to go about living their life with the least risk of contracting diseases and just being safe,” said Rigter.

Both Rigter and Osawamick came to the project with years of outreach and harm reduction experience under their belts. Rigter previously spent 16 years in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside running a harm reduction distribution centre that included a bicycle response team.

Osawamick has been doing outreach work for over 20 years, which was his way of giving back after he became sober himself.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’m in recovery myself, so this is kind of my way of giving back,” said Osawamick. “When I see somebody out there struggling, I can be there for them.

“Even though they may not be wanting to come in for recovery, it’s just that first contact that’s treating them in a dignified, respectful manner so that when they do decide [they need help], we’re going to be one of the first ones they come to.”

Rigter adds, “Frank has a really great sense of humour and I think that because he’s somebody with lived experience, there’s a real trust element to when we meet people in the street.”

The unit has seen success since it began operating in late November and Rigter and Osawamick are continuing to work to get the word out.

Campbell River also has a similar service which has also been gaining traction.

Sarah Sullivan, manager of AVI’s Courtenay and Campbell River offices, says the services are meeting a need in both communities.

“They are getting quite a few calls now and doing a lot of deliveries and a lot of overdose prevention training and it seems to be something that the community’s really looking for, especially after our fixed location is closed at 4 p.m.,” she said.

“We are in an opioid poisoning crisis and people are dying at a horrific rate and so we want to be able to offer support and education to people who may not be able to come to our location so that we can prevent even one more death.”

The mobile response team’s hours are Wednesday and Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The team can be reached at 250-207-3757.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A bench designed and created by Comox woodworker Brian Mayenburg. Photo submitted
Building for a cause to better the community

Comox woodworker raising funds for Comox Valley Food Bank

Greg Baute (inset), senior director of breeding and genetics at Aurora Cannabis, will be the guest speaker at the next Comox Valley Horticultural Society (CVHS) meeting. Photo supplied
Cannabis breeding discussed at next Comox Valley Horticultural Society meeting

Greg Baute, senior director of breeding and genetics at Aurora Cannabis, will… Continue reading

The next speaker in NIC’s online 2021 Artist Talk series is Scott Amos, one half of the group Monkey C Interactive, which has drawn attention for transforming old technologies into interactive works of art, such as Registroid (supplied photo)
Next North Island College Artist Talk speaker breathes new life into old technology

Interactive installation artist Scott Amos will be the next speaker at North… Continue reading

The platanthera dilatata is the fragrant white bog orchid whose perfume on a hot August day is one of the unforgettable delights of a summer hike in Strathcona Park. Photo supplied
Strathcona Wilderness Institute AGM upcoming

The Strathcona Wilderness Institute (SWI) will hold its 2021 annual general meeting… Continue reading

Demonstrators gathered Friday, March 5 at the Courtenay Court House, demanding protection of old-growth forests. Scott Stanfield photo
Citizens march in Courtenay in name of old-growth rainforests

The Comox Valley is one of the B.C. communities engaged in mobilization… Continue reading

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Rising accident rates and payout costs have contributed to billion-dollar deficits at ICBC. (Comox Valley Record)
B.C. appealing decision keeping ICBC injury cases in court

David Eby vows to ‘clip wings’ of personal injury lawyers

Hannah Ankenmann, who works with k’awat’si Economic Development Corporation, winces as she received her first shot of the Pfizer vaccine administered by a Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Family Health nurse. (Zoe Ducklow photo)
Vancouver Island’s small remote towns to get community-wide vaccine clinics

Island Health to take a wholesale approach to immunization, rather than age-based appointments

Anyone with information is asked to call Nanaimo RCMP at 250-754-2345 or contact Crime Stoppers by calling 1-800-222-8477 or submitting a tip online at www.nanaimocrimestoppers.com.
21-year-old motorbike rider dies after crash with ATV on Nanaimo back road

Incident happened Sunday afternoon near Boomerang Lake

(Black Press Media files)
Hosts charged, attendees facing COVID fines after Vancouver police bust party at condo

Police had previously received 10 complains about that condo

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen takes part in an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. A joint federal and B.C. government housing program announced today aims to help people living in up to 25,000 vulnerable households pay their rent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Federal, B.C. governments announce $517-million rent aid program to help vulnerable

Benefits for those not eligible for B.C.’s Rental Assistance Program or Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters

Demonstrators gathered Friday, March 5 at the Courtenay Court House, demanding protection of old-growth forests. Scott Stanfield photo
Citizens march in Courtenay in name of old-growth rainforests

The Comox Valley is one of the B.C. communities engaged in mobilization… Continue reading

(BC SPCA)
Is it safe to give your dog some peanut butter? Not always, BC SPCA warns

Some commercial peanut butter ingredients can be harmful to dogs

Most Read