Health officials are looking to the new Lifeguard app to help reduce overdose risk. Photo by Mike Chouinard

Cumberland wants more done to stop drug deaths

Motions include writing Dr. Bonnie Henry, holding naloxone workshop

While Cumberland council supports recent moves from health officials to fight drug-related deaths in communities like the Comox Valley, it feels more needs to be done.

Coun. Vickey Brown had requested a late addition about the issue to the agenda for Cumberland’s last public meeting in June. She said she and Coun. Jesse Ketler have been taking part in the region’s community drug strategy committee and received some information from Island Health about measures to reduce overdoses.

“On that same day, I learned of yet another death in our community from a toxic drug supply and just thought we needed to continue to have this conversation,” she told council.

Brown said she appreciated moves by Island Health to address the issue of drug-related deaths through measures in a multi-pronged overdose prevention service (OPS). This will include three elements: setting a designated location for people who use substances; episodic OPS, which provides support in a less formal setting to complement other health services people receive; and a new overdose prevention app called Lifeguard, which can connect people who use substances alone at home with an emergency responder. The app will form part of Island Health’s approach in the Comox Valley.

“The launch of this new resource couldn’t have come at a better time,” Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy said in the news release. “As we face down two public health emergencies – the overdose crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic – we must ensure that people who use drugs have the resources they need, when and where they need them.”

According to an Island Health news release, the app is activated by the user before they take their dose. After 50 seconds an alarm sounds. If the person does not hit a button to stop the alarm, the sound grows louder, and after 75 seconds a message goes to 911 for medical dispatchers.

RELATED STORY: Cumberland council shows support for decriminalization of drugs

Brown pointed to numbers of more than 400 deaths in the province since March, with 170 in May alone, saying more needs to be done.

“There is a need for much more of a response,” she said. “We need a safe supply, which will not only keep people alive but also very much reduce criminal activity.”

She would also like to ensure more education for naloxone training and provide kits.

According to Coun. Sean Sullivan, the community had a workshop a little over a year ago.

“I think it’s about time we do another workshop,” he said.

RELATED STORY: Cumberland approves hosting overdose prevention training session

Brown also wanted to advocate for a safe supply and write a letter to the province’s health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. She said the pandemic has put the health authority into the position of providing a safe supply but this is not reaching people, and she wanted to ask the health authority to continue to provide a safe supply beyond the pandemic.

Ketler pointed to an additional challenge, specifically that some physicians in the area might not feel comfortable with prescribing necessary drugs, and she suggested adding a request to provide training for doctors.

Council passed a motion to send the letter, and Mayor Leslie Baird also suggested sending a copy to Leah Hollins, chair of Island Health. They also approved a motion to ask for another workshop on how to administer naloxone.

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