Original Published on Sep 08, 2022 at 10:35
By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
International Overdose Awareness Day took place last Wednesday (Aug. 31), and its affects locally are profound.
On Aug. 26, an event was held at the Community Village in the city, marking the sixth annual overdose awareness day event.
This year’s event allowed people to have one-on-one conversations with people on the front lines as well as to learn about the resources available in the community.
“We have lost too many people in Grande Prairie,” said Tyla Savard, organizer and community advocate.
“At this point in time, we’re losing five people a day in Alberta.”
Forty-seven people died of toxic drug poisoning in Grande Prairie in 2021, according to the Grande Prairie Community Opioid Response Task Force’s Q1 2022 report.
The Alberta RCMP says that in 2021 over 800 lives were lost due to meth-related accidental overdoses, which is a 28 per cent increase since 2020.
In 2021, Alberta EMS responded to 8,253 opioid-related events, said Alberta RCMP.
“We’ve got some of the highest per capita opioid deaths in our community,” said city coun. Dylan Bressey and chair of the Grande Prairie Community Opioid Response Task Force.
“These are needless deaths that can be prevented just by coming together and supporting one another through the whole journey, not just in this moment in time and give you a band-aid, but throughout the whole journey,” said Savard.
“Let’s support each other to set people up for success to actually attain that health and happiness again in life.”
City council endorsed the Grande Prairie Community Opioid Response Framework on Aug. 22 at the regular council meeting.
Changes in the task force’s framework have been made recently.
Bressey explained the changes at the Aug. 16 Protective and Social Services Committee meeting.
There is now a more significant focus on youth in the task force’s plan.
“(We) have more focus on youth, realizing that we do have youth dying of opioid use in our community, and also if you can get to the youth, that’s probably the best way to addressing the opioid crisis five to 10 years from now,” said Bressey.
The task force also has changed its fourth pillar of response.
The first three pillars of prevention – harm reduction, treatment, and recovery – remain the same.
The fourth pillar was enforcement, but it has been changed to first responders.
“It still does include policing, we still do think that there is an enforcement element to opioid response (but we) also want to be more holistic and realize there’s also a fire, EMS, (as well as) frontline shelter workers and street outreach team members,” he said.
An added action item in the new pillar was to ensure first responders have access to mental health support.
“I think perhaps one of the greatest risks facing our community is the PTSD and the other psychological harm that our first responders see.”
Bressey said when the committee was first formed, there was more of a focus on street engagement and the inner city core. He said the committee has found many deaths are happening in homes, so the strategy has evolved.
“We’ve really made a lot of effort to expand to addressing all opioid use,” said Bressey, noting that local school boards and the college are now part of the committee and a youth sub-committee.
Savard hopes to see changes in the future for detox and treatment.
“If someone is wanting to access detox, it takes anywhere from two to five days depending on how busy they are, (and) you have to call in every day multiple times a day to be able to get that spot,” said Savard.
“Then (they) go through detox (and are) there for three to five days kind of thing.
“Then (they’re) back out to whatever life was before because it’s anywhere from six weeks to six months to get into a (treatment) program.”
She says those seeking treatment for addictions face many challenges and barriers due to stigmas and systematic challenges.
“They’re just trying to stay alive.”
Savard would like to see people taken care of for 18 to 24 months and put into next-stage housing to give those seeking help a “solid foundation.”