Waterloo Region Record

Giving naloxone to someone overdosing is like ‘holding someone’s life in my hands’

- LIZ MONTEIRO Waterloo Region Record

WATERLOO REGION — Administer­ing naloxone and watching someone take a breath and come to life after an opioid overdose is a moment no one can forget.

For front-line workers in agencies in Kitchener and Cambridge, it’s a scenario many have faced and current overdose rates show no signs of abating.

Since January, there have been 818 overdose calls. That’s up from 544 during the same period last year.

Rob Crossan, Waterloo Region’s deputy chief of paramedic services, expects those numbers to keep climbing.

“We will be over 1,400 (overdose calls) by December,” he says.

Encounteri­ng someone who has overdosed often leaves seasoned workers pale and trembling, says June Anderson, spiritual-care provider at the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank. She debriefs with workers after they have given someone naloxone.

“I sit with them for a minute, with tea or orange juice, just to say it’s OK and it’s over,” she says.

One worker told her: “I was holding someone’s life in my hands. That person

could have died in front of me.”

The latest report from the Waterloo Region Integrated Drugs Strategy, which tracks overdose calls and deaths in the region, points to a steady increase in overdose calls and a consistent­ly higher rate than the provincial average when it comes to emergency room visits.

In 2018, there were 853 overdose calls by the end of the year. The region could reach that number by the end of this week, Crossan says.

“The numbers are going up and not just a bit. It’s a significan­t jump.”

More than one-third of overdose calls — 35.5 per cent — occur in private homes, while 23.8 per cent occur outdoors. Indoor locations such as public buildings, airports, hotels and schools account for 17.2 per cent.

Other locations, including shelters, account for 23.5 per cent.

From January to Aug. 2, 46 people have died of an overdosere­lated death. The total number of overdose deaths last year was 53.

Almost three-quarters of overdose calls are for men. Half of the calls are men between the ages of 20 to 34.

And most calls are in Kitchener and Cambridge.

Crossan says the increase in overdose calls is staggering, effecting front-line workers as well as family members, who often have little training to cope with an overdose.

“In the wake of an overdose, to come across that is traumatic for everybody,” he says. “It stays with you.”

At the Self-Help Food Bank recently, a man went into the washroom and when he didn’t come out a while later, a worker knocked on the door. There was no answer.

With a master key, the door was opened and the man was slumped on the floor. He had banged his head as he fell and was lying in a pool of blood.

The worker called 911 and then administer­ed naloxone. After one dose, he was conscious.

As the paramedic wheeled him out, Anderson said a prayer for him.

Anderson, 75, has worked at the food bank for 23 years helping people access food and resources at the agency.

But the most challengin­g part of her job is helping those left behind after a friend or family member dies from an opioid overdose.

Two years ago, the food bank along with Trinity Community Table, started a service honouring those who die, many from a drug overdose.

“The theme of our service was someone is missing from our table,” says Anderson. About 80 people attended last year’s service.

As a mother herself who has lost two sons — one to cancer and another in an accident — Anderson understand­s loss and grief.

“I’m able to relate to things they may be thinking but are not saying,” she says. “There is a lot of survivor’s guilt.”

Anderson’s best advice is to sit with one’s grief.

“Your goal today is get through today,” she often tells mothers who have lost children to the drug crisis.

“There is no answer to losing a child,” she says.

“You try to get up and keep walking for today.”

 ?? PETER LEE WATERLOO REGION RECORD ?? June Anderson is the spiritual-care provider at the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank.
PETER LEE WATERLOO REGION RECORD June Anderson is the spiritual-care provider at the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank.

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