No question was off the table as a wide-variety of individuals and service providers gathered at the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre to discuss the toll substance abuse extracts from the community.
The Community Dialogue on Opioid Use series, hosted by the Revelstoke Child and Youth Mental Health Substance Use Collaborative and other partners on Oct. 6, featured a panel of experts who made themselves available to hold discussions with the public. The experts included service providers, as well as those with lived experience.
The evening began with a larger panel discussion before breaking into smaller groups where people could walk around freely and talk to each other about their experiences, or ask questions. The non-judgemental environment saw people speaking openly about the ways substance use has impacted them.
Here are some of the questions that were explored during the larger panel discussion:
What is being done to connect our community to the services that it needs?
“I actually don’t know the answer to that, and I think that’s the problem with it,” said community member Anna Swayze. “People that have addictions don’t really know there is help […] I don’t know if people want to ask for help publicly or if they just don’t know how. Probably most of the time an addiction is really hard to want to take the first step so imagine that’s the biggest hurdle.”
Dr. Lora Cruise, a family physician, said there are several physicians who are able to provide opioid assistance treatment, and there are also supports like Narcotics Anonymous and private counseling options available. Cruise also mentioned Randy Thiessen, the new mental health and substance use clinician at Queen Victoria Hospital, has expressed interest in creating a relapse prevention program.
Selkirk Medical Clinic locum family physician Dr. Zale Apramian said he sees the need to streamline services for those wanting to access them.
“We have a lot of these services around the community and I think we’re working on having the means between various service providers on how to make these things a bit more streamlined,” he said.
Both community member Kelsey Adams and Alex Sherstobitoff, with the Aids Network Kootenay Outreach and Support Society, spoke about the importance of harm reduction.
“I think education and safety is definitely something that needs to be normalized. I tell people I’m a year sober, I still use marijuana as harm reduction, but I still continue therapy. I’ve been going for over a year now and that’s been a huge help,” said Adams.
Sherstobitoff said safer drug use is important because, while there is help for people who want to be abstinent, that may only work for a certain percentage of people.
“I don’t know what that number is, but it’s small [….] The bulk of folks are still hiding in the shadows and we need to build trust amongst the using community, otherwise you won’t see them. You’ll see them in the obituary or in some prison or whatever,” he said.
What’s happening at a younger age in schools to educated and prevent?
“Starting at the Grade 5 level, we have a parent program called PAWS (parents as wellness supporters). Parents come in and try on different strategies. In Grade 9 we’re more explicit with mental health literacy, looking at mental health but also tying in with substances and substance use,” said Ariel McDowell, School District 19 district principal, support services.
McDowell said students from Grades 8 to 12 can self-refer to an in-school clinic at Revelstoke Secondary School on Tuesdays and Thursdays. “On those two days kids have the resource right there in school, so if they’re not comfortable, or maybe counselling isn’t all they need and they really need some medical intervention, they have those services as well.”
Sherstobitoff said while it’s important to go out to the schools and talk about drugs, speaking only about abstinence isn’t realistic.
“Youth — and even back in the old days — youth would experiment and some people get caught, some people don’t. If we had better information in our schools it would go a long ways,” he said.
Dana Reaume, a learning support teacher at Revelstoke Secondary School, agrees there is a need for honest conversations with youth around drug and alcohol use. She said she is seeing a hub of service providers being built.
“I can text a doctor and say, ‘Hey can you bring me some information on fentanyl use because my students are talking to me about how to stay safe at their next party.’ I can reach out and access that, I think that’s a really amazing thing that’s happening here, so to know that there are people, myself, lots of other educators that are having those really honest conversations about what’s happening at parties, how to stay safe at parties, how to say no at parties. The minute we don’t tell teenagers the truth is the minute we no longer have the trust with teenagers. We need to tell them the truth and that’s all of the truth.”
What is the truth — what drugs are out there?
Reaume said students are reporting use of MDMA and ketamine at parties. She said a large percentage of youth see opioids as their parents’ drugs.
“They see those drugs as a little bit more expensive than some of the street drugs, and a little bit harder to get a hold of.”
Are drugs like MDMA and ketamine being laced with fentanyl?
Sherstobitoff said it’s impossible to know exactly which drugs may be laced with fentanyl or carfentanil.
“Nobody can know that because it’s done in a bathtub or however they mix it, so all you have to do is take a plastic bag that once had carfentanil in it and you mix it with any drug and you’re going to have a lot of dead people,” he said.
“[I had] a conversation at a party, which I brought a naloxone kit because I was aware there was drug use. A young Australian just got off the plane ready to rock ‘n’ roll, shred it up in Revy. The thing is I had to tell him ‘Be careful with the coke man, because it’s stomped on hard, most of it’s meth,’” said Adams.
Apramian said every party should have a naloxone kit.
“Almost any drug that’s used now, you have that risk of an opioid overdose with it, as soon as you get past marijuana every drug becomes super, super dangerous for that exact reason. Every party needs a naloxone kit because it’s just so common and so dangerous right now,” he said.
Are there any resources available to test drugs for fentanyl? Do you have to be at risk to get a naloxone kit?
Jo-Ann Scarcella, Interior health public health nurse, said drug testing resources are currently not available in Revelstoke. Naloxone kits are available to the public through public health, both pharmacies and through the mental health and substance use department at Queen Victoria Hospital. The kits are available to anyone who uses, or may be around those who are using drugs. Scarcella also has harm reduction tools, including safe injection and inhalation supplies, which are given out for free
“We have pre-made packages we can give out or just give to someone to give to their friends who may not be as comfortable coming to see me. I also discuss how to safely use that equipment in a better way so they can use those drugs in a safer way,” said Scarcella. The pre-made packages are also available at Revelstoke Family Pharmacy.
For more information on resources available in Revelstoke you can visit revelstokelife.ca. The next Community Dialogue event takes place Nov. 28, during Welcome Week.