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New Vancouver task force aims to help every overdose victim

Last Updated Sep 6, 2019 at 12:38 pm PDT

FILE - A injection kit is seen inside the newly-opened Fraser Health supervised consumption site in Surrey, B.C. Tuesday, June 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

First responders deal with hundreds of overdose calls per week

You can contact the Overdose Outreach Response Team by calling (604) 360-2874

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Too many people dealing with addictions are falling through the cracks and not getting the help they need, but a new Combined Overdose Task Force is hoping to change that.

After a successful trial period, the city is making the task force permanent. Vancouver Fire and Vancouver Coastal Health are at the centre of the city-wide initiative to follow up with every single overdose victim.

Fire Captain Jonathan Gormick says the task force will help with the overwhelming number of barriers that stand between overdose victims and the help that is waiting for them after they are revived.

While they may not be willing to seek help right after the overdose, he says contacting them in the days following the medical episode can lead to better results.

“They may be homeless, they don’t have an address, they don’t have a phone number. All of those people are being missed by the follow-up by Coastal Health, until now,” he says. “They don’t know about the services, or they are barriered by stigma or social isolation. They don’t know who to turn to, they may not feel comfortable talking to their doctor or their family.”

Vancouver’s first responders deal with hundreds of overdose calls per week and despite popular perception, Gormick says calls are not relegated to the Downtown Eastside.

“We’re conducting probably 30 to 40 per cent of our visits in other areas of the city and every area of the city,” he says.

The new partnership was born from a successful pilot project that has already helped nearly two dozen people in need of services. The program, which was trialed in August, sees firefighters work closely with social workers and Coastal Health to help those who need it most.

A provincial report on overdose deaths shows 59 per cent of people who died before 2017 had previously sought treatment for substance-use disorders. Gormick says that shows people want help and often just don’t know how to find it or stick with it – something the task force can change.

“Having someone there, in person, to say ‘You want me to make a phone call? I’m here right now, what can we help you with?’ and to do things like help them get to the doctor,” he says, hopeful the task force will be able to catch the city’s most vulnerable drug users.

You can contact the Overdose Outreach Response Team by calling (604) 360-2874. The team serves Richmond, Vancouver, North Shore, the Sea to Sky Corridor and Powell River.