by: Carole Fawcett (www.wordaffair.com)
George has been a paramedic for 30 years. There isn’t much he hasn’t seen or experienced, as he worked Vancouver’s infamous east side in the 90’s during the Heroin crisis. As a result, he shares that his job has made him appreciate his own life.
George says that “real people with real problems that include mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, grandparents, grandchildren from both sides of the tracks are impacted by the opioid crisis.”
In speaking of drug dealers, he states, “….the pharmaceutical distributors at the street level are highly unreliable. (Users are never sure what they are getting) A lot of the drugs that are used are for physical, emotional and psychological pain and they can be mixed with other drugs that are not identified.”
It was in the 1800’s that opium derivatives became widely used as pain relievers. This includes heroin which was used for medical use before Physicians understood that it was addictive.
The BC Emergency Health Services statistics show that paramedics responded to 23,662 overdose/poisoning calls in 2018. 285 of those calls were in Vernon and 928 were in Kelowna.
George and his co-workers use Narcan to treat people who overdose on opioids regularly in their job. George shares that “….paramedics rely on airway management and ventilation skills to deliver oxygen. During the early stages, resuscitation from opioid overdoses, narcotics such as Fentanyl depress the respiratory center of the brain causing victims to stop breathing. Once this is managed, the antagonist drug Naloxone (Narcan) can be administered to compete with narcotics at the opiate receptor sites of the brain. As the effects of Narcan last between 45 to 90 minutes, overdose victims are at risk of suffering from the Narcotics still in their system, as it can last from 4 to 8 hours. Narcan provides an almost immediate fix, but is only a short term solution and the victim is likely to suffer sudden withdrawal thereby suffering the pain they were self-medicating for. They are now more motivated than ever to get the next fix. Such is the perpetual cycle of addiction.”
Overdosing is not a criminal act. The patient is free to get up and leave after being resuscitated, and many do – going in search of their next fix.
George believes that we can offer help and assistance to those who are addicted and want the help and also acknowledges that there will always be a small percentage of drug users who do not want help.
He states, “at what point do we value the health and safety of the community above the rights and freedoms of the individual?” He believes that we have to “make sure people are safe and have the necessities to survive, but that there has to be some accountability and rules for it to work.”
As a paramedic, George believes that safe injection sites are “a step in the right direction.” He says that drug users frequently share needles and this is how diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B and C can be spread. A lot of drug users don’t realize that other shared tools, such as spoons, cotton filters and even water can spread disease as well. Safe Injection Sites could lessen this and have trained professionals on hand to treat any adverse drug reaction.