Nanaimo's community action team starting work to curb overdose fatalities

By Spencer Sterritt
July 31, 2018 - 3:28pm

The scourge of fentanyl will hopefully be beaten back by a local community action team, who's now working to get people the help they need.File photo/NanaimoNewsNOW

NANAIMO — A provincially-funded community action team is getting ready to hit Nanaimo streets and hopefully curb the number of fatal overdoses.

The team, first announced in February and funded for $100,000 in July, is comprised of various partners from across Nanaimo and the Island, including Harris House, Island Health, AIDS Vancouver Island and the City of Nanaimo.

John Horn, a social planner with the City who's heavily involved in the ongoing overdose crisis, said they've already allocated the money into three main areas.

Peer outreach partnership

Horn said the team wanted to find a way to effectively share education and harm reduction supplies into the drug using community and provide help to those who might not respond as well to a more traditional outreach worker.

They're now opening the door for active intravenous drug users to act as outreach staff and effectively connect with those who are at a high-risk of overdosing or becoming homeless.

It will also hopefully ensure people have harm reduction supplies like Narcan kits on them in a time of need.

“There's too many of our folks who are no longer with us,” Horn said. “That's a shame and something we need to step on the gas with.”

Crowd sourced initiative

A further $30,000 will be used to solicit advice and suggestions from the community about how to prevent further overdoses.

“We think the community as a whole is cognizant of the issue of fentanyl overdoses and many people have spent time about how to best solve that problem,” Horn said.

The team will issue a call for suggestions, sift through the responses and build on potentially successful ideas.

Horn said they're hoping to focus specifically on reducing the number of people who use and overdose when they're alone.

“Fifty per cent of the overdose fatalities in our community are people in their own home who are alone and using. The peer network will get at folks who are more street involved and hang around together. This crowdsourcing piece will get us closer to effectively reaching people who are using alone in their home,” Horn said.

Project coordinator

The remainder of the $100,000 will be used for administrative costs, including hiring a project coordinator to make sure the work gets done.

Horn said many of the team partners are working from the very edge of their desk and to succeed there needs to be someone guiding their efforts full-time.

“When you're delivering a substantial outcome, you need someone taking care of the nuts and bolts.”

With the money recently announced, Horn said hiring a coordinator is their immediate task, followed by sending out requests and proposals to get their initiatives underway. 

Horn said everyone on the team is aware of the uphill battle they're now climbing.

“We're realistic in that there will probably always be overdoses, but our goal is to reduce that to 'normal levels,' rather than the heightened situation we're in. This is about keeping people alive long enough that they can eventually manage their addictions better or seek treatment.”

In Nanaimo in 2017, 51 people fatally overdosed from illicit drug use. By the end of May, 12 people had passed away.

Nanaimo is one of 20 communities to receive funding for a community action team.

A second round of funding, up to $75,000, will be announced in September.


[email protected]

On Twitter: @spencer_sterrit



Events centre consultant claims councillor, ex-City staff 'assured' contracts before open bid process