British Columbia

Pokemon Go player urges gamers to carry naloxone after saving overdose victim

After saving a man from a drug overdose while playing Pokemon Go, a woman in Prince George is urging other games to carry naloxone.

Gamers and drug users 'frequent the same spots,' says Juls Budau

Juls Budau posed with her naloxone kit for this photo using the Pokemon Go app filter. Budau had been playing the game when she saw a man overdosing in a church alley. (Shauna Lynn Russell-Petrie/Contributed)

A Pokemon Go player helped save a man from an overdose while she was out playing the game in Prince George, B.C., last week.

Now, Juls Budau is urging other players of the game to carry naloxone, an overdose-reversing drug — because Pokemon Go gamers and drug users often frequent the same spots, she said. 

"There's a large overlap between Pokemon Go players and people on the street, because we're out there," Budau said. 

Players of Pokemon Go, which uses a smartphone's mapping system, often walk city streets to find virtual "Poke stops," where they can collect prizes and other items via their phone.

Poke stops might attract gamers to city hall, back alleys, post offices, or churches. 

'He was turning blue'

Last week, Budau was in her car, lingering at a Poke stop outside the Fort George Baptist Church. She had her young nephew, Lars, and her dog, Teddy with her.

As she was wrapping up her Pokemon play, she spotted a man collapsed in the alley nearby, along with several people who were trying to help him.

Budau jumped out of her car and asked if she could help.

"The guy was unconscious, really struggling to breathe and he was turning blue," said Budau.

"One of the people [trying to help] was going to run to 7-Eleven and see if they had a Narcan [naloxone] kit," said Budau.

But Budau stepped in, because she'd been carrying an overdose antidote kit in her flowered purse for several years. 

Budau said the unconscious man "sort of gasped" after she injected him with the first naloxone dose, before she used a second needle.

Paramedics arrived soon afterwards.   

"It was just nice to know that he was OK," Budau said.

Budau, who has worked in social services in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, said she's responded to about 20 overdoses in the past. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC News)

The incident in the church alley was "a scary moment," said Dan Hoffman, pastor at Fort George Baptist Church, who said church members called an ambulance and tried CPR. 

Hoffman said the church does weekly sweeps for needles, because drug users spend time in the parking lot.

So do Pokemon players, he said.

"I see a lot of them. Our church is a Poke stop, which is great," Hoffman said.   

'Too many overdoses and deaths'

Ironically, Budau is on medical leave from her frontline social service job in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, partly because of the stress of "dealing with too many overdoses and deaths."

"I've probably responded to about 20 overdoses," she said. "I have found people hours after they overdose, when they are just gone. There's nothing you can do."

Budau believes Pokemon Go players can play an active role in reducing overdose deaths if they get emergency training and carry naloxone kits alongside their smartphones, as they travel in search of Poke stops.

"We're out here on the streets and we're dealing with a public health emergency," she said. "Many people don't use urban places where street-involved people go. But we do."   

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, more than 10,300 Canadians died as a result of apparent opioid-related overdoses between January 2016 and September 2018. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

More than 10,000 dead in less than 3 years

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, more than 10,300 Canadians died as a result of apparent opioid-related overdoses between January 2016 and September 2018.

The agency believes the deaths of "so many people in such a short period" of time may cause a dip in Canadian life expectancy.

In the U.S., officials believe a rise in naloxone prescriptions may have stopped overdose deaths from rising.

In B.C., drug-related deaths for the first five months of 2019 decreased by 30 per cent compared to the same period in 2018.


Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener has won numerous journalism awards, including a national network award for radio documentary and the Adrienne Clarkson Diversity Award. Based in Prince George, B.C., Betsy has reported on everything from hip hop in Tanzania to B.C.'s energy industry and the Paralympics.