Nfld. & Labrador

More emphasis on addictions still needed: outreach group

An outreach program for young people in St. John's says more needs to be done for the addiction problem in the province.

St. John's is working with outreach groups to educate drug users about the dangers

Jane Henderson of Choices for Youth says addicts need access to better services, including shorter wait lists and in-province treatment programs. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

An outreach group in St. John's applauds a new plan to help protect people from the dangers of fentanyl but says more needs to be done in the area of addictions. 

"We need to have a bigger dialogue about how we're going to tackle addictions versus tackling one single drug," said Jane Henderson of Choices for Youth. 

"Ten years ago we were having oxycontin task forces. And this year we're on to fentanyl," she added. "And I guarantee you if you were to take fentanyl out of the community there's going to be another drug coming right behind. So until we figure out how to tackle addictions and not the specific drug we're just going to be going around in circles."

Her comments come as a new partnership and awareness campaign involving the province, Eastern Health and the City of St. John's was announced Monday in Bannerman Park.

Police officers joined the province and the City of St. John's to announce a new initiative to keep drug users safe. (CBC)
Henderson said there's no argument that fentanyl is a huge and serious problem.

"We've made some really great strides here today," she said. "I think overall we need to start thinking about addiction differently. I think in Newfoundland we've been thinking about addiction for too long as a moral failure and we need to start looking through a health model." 

The awareness and education campaign is in response to a fentanyl-related death and a cluster of fentanyl overdoes.

Key components of the campaign will be pop-up tents and clinics at various locations including events and festivals throughout the summer in the St. John's area.

The initiative also focuses on the antidote naloxone, harm reduction, stigma reduction and treatment services.

Christopher Smith of the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse says for people who are uneasy using syringes when helping someone who has overdosed, naloxone comes in a nasal spray. (CBC)

Henderson said these are steps in the right direction

"I keep hearing over and over that people choose to be an addict, people choose this lifestyle. I can guarantee you that is not the case," she said. 

"We need better services and better supports for people with addictions — including shortening wait lists and in-province treatment programs."

Extra things can be done

Christopher Smith, who works with a countrywide drug-monitoring program, has a few suggestions on how to help keep drug users safe. 

One that he's partial to is the fentanyl test strip, which can tell if fentanyl is present in another drug.

"There are people who are going to use drugs regardless of our attempts to demonize it or make it illegal or what have you," he said. "The best thing we can do for these people is to try and make it as safe as possible or to cause as least harm as possible." 

The pop-up tents will offer clean — and free — cooking kits for drug users. (CBC)

Smith, who's a professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland and is with the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse, said drug-checking is normal in the drug party scene.

"I'd like to see these at drug-checking booths, at festivals, at parties. If you know your dope is laced with fentanyl you're going to be more careful," he said. "I think a separate drug-checking initiative would be a really good idea and give people knowledge so they can gauge their own use of a given substance." 

RNC Const. Geoff Higdon shows naloxone spray, which is part of the opioid overdose kit he carries on his belt. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Smith is also a fan of the opioid antidote Naloxone in a nasal spray. 

He said syringes and glass vials throw some people off but the spray is easy to use.

They are about $70 each, he said, adding most kits contain at least two, so it can be expensive.