FILE – A injection kit is seen inside the newly opened Fraser Health supervised consumption site is pictured in Surrey, B.C., Tuesday, June 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

FILE – A injection kit is seen inside the newly opened Fraser Health supervised consumption site is pictured in Surrey, B.C., Tuesday, June 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

‘We’ve been there before’: National phone line launches to prevent overdose deaths

The initiative comes at a time when overdose deaths are spiking

A new Canada-wide phone line aims to prevent deadly overdoses by connecting anyone who is alone and using drugs with peers who can quickly call for help if things take a bad turn.

“People who have experience with overdose, or peers, have kind of a gut feeling or gut sense about what’s happening and what’s going wrong, because we’ve been there before,” said Rebecca Morris-Millerwho founded Grenfell Ministries in Hamilton after years of drug use, homelessness and run-ins with the law.

The National Overdose Response Service, or NORS, is a collaboration between Grenfell Ministries and Brave Technology Co-op, which operates in Vancouver and Columbus, Ohio.

Anyone in Canada using a potentially deadly substance can dial a toll-free number and have someone standing by to call for help if needed. A volunteer checks in periodically and calls 911 if there’s no response.

The caller can also provide contact information in advance for someone nearby with a naloxone kit — a helpful option to reverse an overdose in remote areas with long emergency response times.

The phone line can be a connection to treatment and social services without pressure or judgment, said Morris-Miller.

“You have to meet people where they are at and let them make their journey towards you.”

Grenfell Ministries runs peer support and outreach groups and, in February, set up an overdose response phone line serving Ontario.

NORS is starting out with 16 peer volunteers and is looking for more. A peer can be an active or recovering drug user or a front-line worker.

The initiative comes at a time when overdose deaths are spiking.

A recent federal report says there were 1,628 apparent opioid toxicity deaths between April and June of this year, when the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

That’s a 58 per cent increase from the first three months of the year and the highest quarterly count since Ottawa first started keeping track in 2016.

“We have this awful pandemic going on and people are trying to access services, but a lot of places got closed,” said Grenfell executive director Kim Ritchie.

“The border shut down, so the drugs got cut with wilder and wilder stuff, causing more death.”

Ritchie said everyone involved in the project had a “driving passion” to do something.

“You can’t treat an addict that’s already dead,” she said.

“I’ve buried so many.”

Oona Krieg, Brave’s chief operating officer, said NORS can reach people without cellular data or Wi-Fi.

Brave has several technological offerings to keep drug users safe — all co-designed by people with personal experience — including a mobile app linking drug users with remote supervision.

Other products include buttons that can summon help and sensors that can detect if there is someone motionless inside a washroom or other enclosed space.

“It just seemed like another tool to put in the proverbial tool belt,” Krieg said of NORS. “We need a multitude of solutions. This problem is so incredibly complex, incredibly multi-faceted.”

Dr. Monty Ghosh, a physician who treats vulnerable patients in Edmonton and Calgary, said he learned about what Brave and Grenfell Ministries were doing separately and suggested they link up on a national scale.

He worked on getting Health Canada’s blessing and will evaluate how effective it is.

In 2016, a telehealth patient in northwestern Alberta told Ghosh that he would use drugs with a friend in Edmonton over FaceTime on their cellphones, so each could get help if the other overdosed.

“The patient had a brilliant idea that I felt needed to be implemented,” said Ghosh. Alberta had a remote supervision pilot in the works, but the United Conservative government paused it earlier this year.

Provincial data shows the vast majority of overdose deaths happen in homes and outside downtown cores.

Ghosh added that supervised consumption sites are effective at preventing overdose deaths within a 500-metre radius. NORS is meant to reach drug users who live too far beyond that or would be reluctant to visit a site because of the stigma.

“It really is a life-saving intervention at its core.”

National Overdose Response Service: 1-888-688-NORS (6677)

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

opioidsoverdoseoverdose crisis

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Some bystanders with fire extinguishers helped keep the fire under control. Photo courtesy Suzie Thomas
Bystanders keep fire from spreading near McIvor Lake turnoff

‘Just be vigilant and careful,’ says Campbell River fire chief

The Pier Street Farmers Market will once again take up residence on Sundays from May to Septmber at the parking lot across from the Community Centre in downtown Campbell River for 2021. Mirror File Photo
Pier Street Farmers Market returns to Cedar Street parking lot for 2021

…and it’s hoped that the addition of artisans this year will make it even better

Some recommendations from the Downtown Safety Select Committee have been approved by Campbell River City Council, including removing the glass stage covering at Spirit Square. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Council going ahead with removing Spirit Square stage covering

But mayor acknowledges need for ‘welcoming, warm place with support services’

A small fire on North Rendezvous Island is the first wildfire of the season in the Campbell River area. Officials are asking people to take caution when burning during these dry conditions. BC Wildfire Dashboard
‘Conditions are tricky at the moment’ warns Coastal Fire Centre

Small fire on North Rendezvous Island first of the season for Campbell River area

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

Pat Kauwell, a semi-retired construction manager, lives in his fifth-wheel trailer on Maxey Road because that’s what he can afford on his pension, but a Regional District of Nanaimo bylaw prohibits using RVs as permanent dwellings, leaving Kauwell and others like him with few affordable housing options. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Rules against RV living hard on Island residents caught in housing crunch

Regional District of Nanaimo bylaw forcing pensioner to move RV he calls home off private farm land

(Black Press file photo).
Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Russ Ball (left) and some of the team show off the specimen after they were able to remove it Friday. Photo supplied
Courtenay fossil hunter finds ancient turtle on local river

The specimen will now make its home at the Royal BC Museum

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

Most Read