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Harm reduction saved thousands of lives: study

VANCOUVER ISLAND, B.C. – Harm reduction tools have helped to prevent 3,000 overdose deaths in B.C. over a 20-month period.

This is according to new research led by the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC).

The study estimates that without the rapid jump in harm reduction services, the number of overdose deaths in B.C. would be 2.5 times as high.

The BCCDC’s medical lead for harm reduction, Jane Buxton, said Naloxone has been a key tool in saving lives.

“Naloxone we know saves lives and this study really emphasizes that point and gives us the evidence that without it, there may potentially have been another 1,500 deaths over this time period,” she said.

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But she also notes that B.C. is still seeing an “unacceptable” number of overdose deaths.

“Yes, it’s not increased this year to date, while there are illicit, toxic substances on the street market, people are still going to die,” Buxton said.

She also said Naloxone is a way of connecting people.

“We train people who have the kits and we talk to them about how to prevent an overdose, how to recognize and also how to respond,” she said.

“So it’s not just having a kit and then administering it, it’s comprehensive training and discussion with the clients that happens.”

The study examined the impact of three strategies scaled up across B.C.

  • the distribution of naloxone in the community through the Take Home Naloxone program,
  • the expansion of overdose prevention services and supervised consumption sites,
  • and increased access to treatments for opioid use disorder such as methadone and Suboxone, also known as opioid agonist therapy.

It reviewed the period between April 2016, when the public health emergency on overdoses was declared, and December 2017.

The study found that:

  • Between April 2016 and December 2017, there were 2,177 overdose deaths in B.C.
  • During the same period, an estimated 3,030 deaths were averted by all three interventions combined.

Individually, the interventions averted:

  • 1,580 deaths by the Take Home Naloxone program. (There were 5,074 Naloxone kits distributed between 2012 and 2015, and 83,685 Naloxone kits distributed in 2016 and 2017).
  • 230 deaths by overdose prevention services and supervised consumption sites (23 overdose prevention sites operating by the end of 2017).
  • 590 deaths by opioid agonist treatment (18,095 average number of people receiving opioid agonist therapy monthly between 2012 and 2015; increased to 22,191 in 2017).

The study reviewed the period between April 2016, when the public health emergency on overdoses was declared, and December 2017.

Naloxone is available for free at local pharmacies and health units, and you can find out where to get one near you at the toward the heart website.

The site also provides tools that will guide people on how to recognize an overdose and administer Naloxone.

“We can train people in a very short time,” Buxton said.

“It goes through what people need to know. You have to answer questions to be able to move on so it’s really making sure people go through it. In the end, they can get a certificate and they can take that to a pharmacy and get their kit.”

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