British Columbia

Coping with death: Harm reduction workers struggle to deal with emotional toll of fentanyl crisis

People working on the front lines of the fentanyl crisis in B.C. are struggling with the huge emotional toll of losing so many of their clients to drug overdoses.

'It's frightening when you come across somebody who is lying there, turning blue'

B.C. front line workers are having trouble coping with the emotional toll of the fentanyl crisis. (CBC)

Harm reduction workers in the B.C. Interior say the fentanyl crisis is taking a huge emotional toll on them as they lose more and more clients to drug overdoses.

Fentanyl overdose deaths continue to climb across Canada, and now kill more Canadians than car crashes, according to recent coroner's reports.

In B.C. the death toll from accidental drug overdoses has averaged about two people a day. Sixty-two per cent of those cases are linked to fentanyl.

As the number of deaths continues to climb, harm reduction workers like Carmen Carr are trying to cope with the grief that comes with losing so many people they know to the crisis.

Carmen Carr, Christine Lester and Tony Gunning are equipped with a naloxone kit at the Crossroads Inn in Kamloops B.C. (Jennifer Chrumka)

Carr and her colleagues at the Crossroads Inn in Kamloops, B.C., have administered the opioid antidote naloxone to numerous people in the midst of an overdose.

"It's a frightful thing when you come across somebody who is blue and they are lying there and they have been there for a while," she said.

"This person that you're trying to save is dying. If they are not going to come through with the naloxone, they are going to die. It's as simple as that."

Carr says she either deals with or hears about an overdose almost every day, and many times it's someone she and her colleagues know.

It's the same situation in Kelowna, according to Living Positive Resource Centre executive director Clare MacDonald.

Call for grief counselling 

"Mondays are a little bit terrifying for us at this point because we come into the office and everybody has a sense of dread," she said.

"Are we going to come back to the news that we lost somebody over the weekend?"

She said because of the spike in overdose deaths, front line workers don't have time to process the grief associated with losing someone they know.

"The emotional toll of this drug crisis is huge," MacDonald said.

"We don't have a conversation where one of us is strong enough to not cry."

MacDonald said what she and her colleagues really need is counselling — someone to talk to about their grief who is slightly detached from the situation.

With files from Jennifer Chrumka and Jaimie Kehler