Local residents interested in learning to save lives amid the ongoing opioid crisis should mark their calendars, as St. John Ambulance prepares to offer a series of free overdose response workshops in Campbell River.
The training sessions are designed to prepare participants for the moment of crisis, said Drew Binette, director of strategic partnerships and fund development for the charitable group’s B.C. and Yukon wing.
“You’ve never encountered somebody who’s not breathing, and it’s a very scary situation,” said Binette. “We really want folks to leave this class feeling confident.”
During the 3.5-hour workshops in Campbell River, participants will perform simulated injections of naloxone, a lifesaving drug for reversing overdoses, by sinking a needle into a kind of artificial skin patch, Binette said.
Attendees will also learn to provide artificial respiration, a key lifesaving technique during an overdose, he said.
The workshops involve scenarios designed to enable people to identify an overdose, manage the scene of the emergency, and care for themselves after the intervention.
Binette noted that since the effects of opioids are longer-lasting than naloxone, people need to be prepared to administer the medication more than once, as one overdose may follow another.
It’s not a process that most people are comfortable with at first, he said.
“The majority of us have never touched a syringe, have never used a syringe,” he said. “At the end of the 3.5 hours, you’ll be more confident than when you entered it on how to administer naloxone and save a life.”
He added that participants will get a free naloxone kit to take home following the workshops, which are sponsored by the B.C. Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction.
“You get the knowledge, and then you get the tools to actually provide the lifesaving treatment,” he said.
The 12-person sessions – which involve an overview of the ongoing public health crisis – are geared towards reducing stigma, Binette said.
He noted that overdose victims come from all walks of life, including workers who get hooked on painkillers after getting injured on the job, or elderly people who may accidentally apply too many prescription fentanyl patches.
The workshops are taking place across the country, but concentrated in the B.C.-Yukon area, Binette said. No first-aid experience is necessary, he added.
The Campbell River workshops begin on the morning of Jan. 9 and continue until the end of March. Each session takes place at the local St. John Ambulance office, at 170 Dogwood St., and people can register at the front desk, by calling 1-866-321-2651 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The full schedule is available at startsavinglives.ca.
Preliminary figures for 2018 indicate that overdoses killed some 20 people on the North Island alone by the end of November, according to Dr. Charmaine Enns, medical health officer for northern Vancouver Island.
At least nine of those fatalities took place in the Campbell River area, she said.
Overdose deaths across the province are many times higher than a decade ago, before the onset of the opioid crisis, but Enns stressed that statistics only tell a small part of the story.
“They’re not just numbers, they’re people,” said Enns. “They’re people that matter, and they’re people with loved ones.”
She also noted that while death is the extreme event – the “tip of this awful iceberg” – the effects of the opioid crisis are multiple, including brain injuries and other complications. She noted that a wide range of efforts are needed to address the opioid crisis.
The overdose workshops are a new initiative for St. John Ambulance, a group well known for providing first-aid training around the world.
St John Ambulance traces its roots back to the founding of a hospital in Jerusalem during the 11th century.
According a historical overview on the group’s website, the modern organization emerged in England during the 1870s, when it began training ordinary people in first-aid amid the frequent workplace deaths of the Industrial Revolution.