Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story reported the naloxone-training program had been confirmed. A UFV spokesperson has since corrected previous statements made to The News to reflect the fact the program is in the discussion and exploratory phase. The story has been changed to reflect this.
University of the Fraser Valley students could soon be drafted into the fight against the region’s ongoing opiate overdose crisis, with a new and potentially life-saving training program, which is currently in the discussion and exploratory phase.
Potentially beginning this school year, students would be taught basic skills around caring for people who are overdosing, including how to use naloxone – a medication which blocks the effects of opiates like heroin, morphine and fentanyl and can rescue someone from an overdose. The drug is administered by pressing a pre-filled injector (similar to an EpiPen) into a person’s leg, with a needle injection or with a nasal spray (currently unavailable in Canada).
The students would also be trained to spot the signs of drug use and overdose, as well as administer basic CPR and first aid.
“Everybody in the community has a responsibility to look after each other and the school is no exception,” said UFV’s career development co-ordinator Michele Giordano, who is organizing the initiative.
UFV would possibly be the first of its kind to offer such a program, she said.
While the students wouldn’t receive naloxone, the antidote made available without a prescription earlier this spring.
Giordano said she had originally planned to make the training available solely for students in the criminology and criminal justice program in advance of their practicums.
Those students often end up doing practicums at organizations like the John Howard Society, which assists people recently released from jail. That population is at particularly high risk for overdose because they may not realize how their resistance to drugs has dropped or have experience with the new batches of fentanyl-laced drugs, she said.
“What a horrible thing for a brand new practicum student to start a day at John Howard Society and have someone drop in front of them and die and not have a tool to help,” said Giordano.
Giordano said the training would also be particularly useful to students in the social work and nursing programs, who often work in detox and addiction treatment centres as part of their practicum.
The training would be administered by Erica Thomson, an outreach worker at the Warm Zone women’s resource centre in Abbotsford, where Giordano used to work.
Thomson said an important aspect of the training would be teaching students to spot the signs of addiction in their peer group.
Thomson and Giordano revealed plans for the program to The News after a day-long event at Matsqui Centennial Hall, in recognition of Overdose Awareness Day on Wednesday, Aug. 31.
An attendee at the event, Christine Reid, who volunteers with various organizations in the community, said she has seen the effects addiction can have on people.
She said she had hung about 15 different names over the years on a special tree that memorializes those who have died from overdoses. On Sunday, she hung the name of a recently deceased man she said struggled with addiction for many years.
Reid said addicts who have been using opiates for years are now much more vulnerable to overdose due to the prevalence of fentanyl-laced drugs.
“Even the most seasoned drug users are going down,” she said.
There were 21 overdose deaths recorded in the first seven months of 2016 in Abbotsford, the same number of fatalities were recorded in the four-year period from 2007 to 2010.
B.C. Emergency Health Services responded to 68 suspected overdoses from Aug. 1 to Aug. 30, including 27 calls during the one-week period from Aug. 24 to Aug. 30.