As the overdose crisis continues to claim lives in Prince George and across the province, local service providers came together to host the second annual overdose prevention community health fair.
Hosted by the Central Interior Native Health Society (CINHS), the fair was set up in the parking lot on Fifth Avenue and Lower Patricia next to Moccasin Flats.
“It is a chance for all of the community partners who are involved with the current toxic drug crisis to come together and provide no barrier access to services for clients who are so affected,” said Jennifer Hoy, a program support coordinator with CINHS.
“It is difficult for people who use drugs to make that first step and go into agencies and ask for help whether it is harm reduction or healthcare or any services they need. There’s so much stigma around it, and there’s so much shame and so much horrible treatment of vulnerable populations that happen in our city as well, so this is a chance to bring the agencies to them and just say ‘there’s no barrier’s and ‘we are here to help you.’”
Organizations like Foundry, Family Smart, Northern Health, POUNDS, the Needle Exchange, First Nations Health Authority and Uniting Northern Drug Users (UNDU) were all present.
There was not only food, games, and arts and crafts available but valuable services like drug testing, naloxone training, and dry blood spot testing enabling people to check for HIV, HEP C, and syphilis.
Hoy said the first annual overdose prevention community health fair, held the same time last year, was a great success especially because they were able to help many people fill out applications for the new supportive housing units that have since opened in the city.
“A ton of those people found housing. We also had a lot of people just bringing awareness to what is going on downtown and we had business owners from around here get Narcan trained and just take a few minutes to listen to clients,” said Hoy.
“Everyone in the world is affected by the overdose crisis. It is not just an issue in downtown Prince George it is an issue everywhere, for every class of people, so we just tried to increase what we had and hoped more people could come this year.”
Drug overdose deaths have claimed 35 lives in Prince George so far this year, according to the B.C Coroners Service and 81 deaths have been reported in the Northern Health region at large.
By health authority, Northern Health has the highest rate in the province of overdose deaths at 53 deaths per 100,000 individuals. Overall, the rate in B.C. is 42 deaths per 100,000 individuals.
The latest coroner's report also stated that illicit drug overdose deaths rates in Northern Health have increased, while death rates in all other health authorities have decreased.
Hoy said the numbers in the latest report were absolutely dreadful.
“We are losing people at astronomical rates,” said Hoy. “Every single one of those numbers is somebody’s mom, daughter, father, son and so the sharing of this information and resources saves lives.”
She said it’s important that the public remembers that people who use drugs are people first.
“There’s so much unkindness and horrible words and behaviours about people [who use drugs] but they are all just people and they are worthy of love, they are worthy of respect, they are worthy of help and support, and that is what we are here for today to provide that and remind people of that.”