By Dale Bass
Kamloops This Week
Dr. Ian Mitchell believes the two new overdose-prevention initiatives in Kamloops will not be a success if that is all they accomplish — preventing overdoses.
Mitchell, an emergency-room physician at Royal Inland Hospital and expert on medical cannabis and emergency medicine, has been appointed medical director of the two programs, both operating out of ASK Wellness Centre facilities.
One is at ASK Wellness’s Tranquille Road office on the North Shore and the other is at the Crossroads facility at Seymour Street and Fifth Avenue downtown.
Mitchell said having health-care and advocacy workers on the streets talking to people about drug use and listening to them has to happen to start the conversation.
“When you offer them some information on naloxone [a drug that temporarily reverses an opioid overdose], and you look them in the eye, they realize their lives matter to you,” he said.
“A lot of these people have trust issues and when they realize ‘They care about me,’ it gives us more time to talk about other avenues.”
Those avenues, Mitchell said, can lead to entering rehabilitation programs, finding housing or taking other steps toward wellness and away from addiction.
As for people who dismiss actions being taken to address the opioid crisis in B.C. — which provincial medical health officer Dr. Perry Kendall has declared a medical emergency — Mitchell believes many of the people making the comments “see these people as others, not like them.
“That’s how it used to be, but it isn’t anymore . . .” Mitchell said. “More and more people know someone who has lost a family member to an overdose, who has had an overdose. They can’t say ‘That’s not us, that’s others’ any more.”
Mitchell likened the situation to the days of prohibition, when people could go to speakeasies.
“You get a drink that had no alcohol in it or it was just methanol and you died,” he said. “That’s what’s happening now with fentanyl. Many of these people are not addicted, but they’re all playing Russian roulette with their lives.”
Mitchell referred to an American research study released earlier this month that showed supervised injection facilities for people who inject drugs saves money in the health-care system.
The study by the a team of researchers, including the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Disease Control, estimated one such facility in San Francisco would generate $3.5 million in savings by keeping drug users out of the hospital. They would also be less likely to develop secondary medical issues like hepatitis and HIV due to qualified supervision.
There are tremendous health costs associated with drug use, Mitchell said, noting the two sites — the Crossroads site was operational on Friday, Dec. 16, and the North Shore site goes lives on Wednesday, Dec. 21 — are just one step in the continuum of change.
“But research has also shown with sites like this, crime does not increase and discarded needles decrease,” he said.