Overdose crisis prompts call for more DTES volunteers

Workers at a pop-up overdose prevention site in the Downtown Eastside say the ongoing overdose crisis is pushing volunteers to the edge, and more are needed.

'The need is greater down here. It takes a certain kind of person ... to work in this environment'

Supplies at a pop-up overdose prevention site on the Downtown Eastside. As the overdose crisis continues in B.C., volunteers are calling for more people to come to the Downtown Eastside and help them. (Lisa Christiansen/CBC)

A group working at a pop-up injection site asked for volunteers — any volunteers — to come to the Downtown Eastside to get on-the-fly training to use naloxone and provide other help.

Overdose prevention workers are becoming desperate after the B.C. Coroners Service announced Monday that 128 people died of illicit drug overdoses in November, 

"We need more help down here, we do," volunteer Lana Crouch told On The Coast's Michelle Eliot. "There's not enough. [There's] demand for more people, and more help from the wonderful government would be great but unfortunately that's not happening. So we have to do it."

Melissa Patton, a pharmacy assistant, says she felt the need to volunteer when she saw what many of her Downtown Eastside clients were going through. Now she's volunteering three or four days a week.

"There was a need beyond what we do at the pharmacy," she said. "I actually wound up in a homeless shelter for four months this year. I have 10 years of education, I have a job — it happens.

"I saw a lot of people using at the shelter … the need is greater down here. It takes a certain kind of person who's able to work in this environment and keep a level head."

A volunteer stands at the entrance of a pop-up overdose prevention site on the Downtown Eastside. (Lisa Christiansen/CBC)

Sarah Blyth, a current volunteer with the Overdose Prevention Society and former Park Board commissioner, says people interested in volunteering don't need to provide naloxone treatment if they don't feel comfortable with that.

"Even if someone wants to bring some hot chocolate for folks, knowing that it's Christmastime and also that it's cold out," she said. "It's nice just having smiling faces in a stressed-out time."

With files from Michelle Eliot and CBC Radio One's On The Coast


To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Overdose crisis prompts call for more DTES volunteers