FILE – A injection kit is seen inside the newly opened Fraser Health supervised consumption site is pictured in Surrey, B.C., Tuesday, June 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

FILE – A injection kit is seen inside the newly opened Fraser Health supervised consumption site is pictured in Surrey, B.C., Tuesday, June 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

‘We’ve been there before’: National phone line launches to prevent overdose deaths

The initiative comes at a time when overdose deaths are spiking

A new Canada-wide phone line aims to prevent deadly overdoses by connecting anyone who is alone and using drugs with peers who can quickly call for help if things take a bad turn.

“People who have experience with overdose, or peers, have kind of a gut feeling or gut sense about what’s happening and what’s going wrong, because we’ve been there before,” said Rebecca Morris-Millerwho founded Grenfell Ministries in Hamilton after years of drug use, homelessness and run-ins with the law.

The National Overdose Response Service, or NORS, is a collaboration between Grenfell Ministries and Brave Technology Co-op, which operates in Vancouver and Columbus, Ohio.

Anyone in Canada using a potentially deadly substance can dial a toll-free number and have someone standing by to call for help if needed. A volunteer checks in periodically and calls 911 if there’s no response.

The caller can also provide contact information in advance for someone nearby with a naloxone kit — a helpful option to reverse an overdose in remote areas with long emergency response times.

The phone line can be a connection to treatment and social services without pressure or judgment, said Morris-Miller.

“You have to meet people where they are at and let them make their journey towards you.”

Grenfell Ministries runs peer support and outreach groups and, in February, set up an overdose response phone line serving Ontario.

NORS is starting out with 16 peer volunteers and is looking for more. A peer can be an active or recovering drug user or a front-line worker.

The initiative comes at a time when overdose deaths are spiking.

A recent federal report says there were 1,628 apparent opioid toxicity deaths between April and June of this year, when the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

That’s a 58 per cent increase from the first three months of the year and the highest quarterly count since Ottawa first started keeping track in 2016.

“We have this awful pandemic going on and people are trying to access services, but a lot of places got closed,” said Grenfell executive director Kim Ritchie.

“The border shut down, so the drugs got cut with wilder and wilder stuff, causing more death.”

Ritchie said everyone involved in the project had a “driving passion” to do something.

“You can’t treat an addict that’s already dead,” she said.

“I’ve buried so many.”

Oona Krieg, Brave’s chief operating officer, said NORS can reach people without cellular data or Wi-Fi.

Brave has several technological offerings to keep drug users safe — all co-designed by people with personal experience — including a mobile app linking drug users with remote supervision.

Other products include buttons that can summon help and sensors that can detect if there is someone motionless inside a washroom or other enclosed space.

“It just seemed like another tool to put in the proverbial tool belt,” Krieg said of NORS. “We need a multitude of solutions. This problem is so incredibly complex, incredibly multi-faceted.”

Dr. Monty Ghosh, a physician who treats vulnerable patients in Edmonton and Calgary, said he learned about what Brave and Grenfell Ministries were doing separately and suggested they link up on a national scale.

He worked on getting Health Canada’s blessing and will evaluate how effective it is.

In 2016, a telehealth patient in northwestern Alberta told Ghosh that he would use drugs with a friend in Edmonton over FaceTime on their cellphones, so each could get help if the other overdosed.

“The patient had a brilliant idea that I felt needed to be implemented,” said Ghosh. Alberta had a remote supervision pilot in the works, but the United Conservative government paused it earlier this year.

Provincial data shows the vast majority of overdose deaths happen in homes and outside downtown cores.

Ghosh added that supervised consumption sites are effective at preventing overdose deaths within a 500-metre radius. NORS is meant to reach drug users who live too far beyond that or would be reluctant to visit a site because of the stigma.

“It really is a life-saving intervention at its core.”

National Overdose Response Service: 1-888-688-NORS (6677)

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

opioidsoverdoseoverdose crisis

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The WHL’s Victoria Royals will compete in a 24-game season starting March 26, <strong></strong>based out of a Kamloops and Kelowna B.C. division bubble (Kevin Light/Courtesy Victoria Royals)
‘Important to cherish every moment’: Victoria Royals not taking bubble season for granted

The Victoria WHL team’s coach and GM calls the season a ‘privilege,’ expects fierce rivalries

The Victoria Fire Department was able to contain a fire to one room after a bed placed directly against a heater ignited. (Black Press Media file photo)
Early morning Victoria balcony fire causes $20,000 in damages

Victoria Fire Department said nobody was injured in the fire on View Street

Postmark Group, an Edmonton-based development firm, bought two properties at 6641 and 6643 Sooke Rd. last year, and is reaching out to the community and local groups for feedback before they begin planning the designs for the development. (Photo contributed/Postmark Group)
Waterfront village development eyed for Sooke

Postmark Group development firm bought two properties at 6641 and 6643 Sooke Rd. last year

Camp Barnard during the 2019 Pacific Jamboree. (Photo: Camp Barnard)
Camp Barnard near Sooke hopes fundraiser will help it progress on accessibility goals

I Care ‘Bout Camp challenge hopes to raise $100,000 for new lodge, replaced kitchen

Saanich council recently adopted a 131-step climate action plan expected to cost $2.5-million in the first year of implementation. (Black Press Media file photo)
Tensions high as Saanich considers reigniting local area plan review

Majority vote pushes discussion to fall strategic plan check-in

Const. Nancy Saggar, who has 11 years in policing, offers advice for other women who may pursue both policing and family. (Black Press Media file photo)
Pregnancy prompts sage advice from RCMP officer for women thinking about policing

West Shore constable with 11 years experience heads off on maternity leave

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix provide a regular update on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, March 2, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 cases: 545 Saturday, 532 Sunday, 385 Monday

Focus on Prince Rupert, Lower Mainland large workplaces

Rising accident rates and payout costs have contributed to billion-dollar deficits at ICBC. (Comox Valley Record)
B.C. appealing decision keeping ICBC injury cases in court

David Eby vows to ‘clip wings’ of personal injury lawyers

Hannah Ankenmann, who works with k’awat’si Economic Development Corporation, winces as she received her first shot of the Pfizer vaccine administered by a Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Family Health nurse. (Zoe Ducklow photo)
Vancouver Island’s small remote towns to get community-wide vaccine clinics

Island Health to take a wholesale approach to immunization, rather than age-based appointments

Anyone with information is asked to call Nanaimo RCMP at 250-754-2345 or contact Crime Stoppers by calling 1-800-222-8477 or submitting a tip online at www.nanaimocrimestoppers.com.
21-year-old motorbike rider dies after crash with ATV on Nanaimo back road

Incident happened Sunday afternoon near Boomerang Lake

(Black Press Media files)
Hosts charged, attendees facing COVID fines after Vancouver police bust party at condo

Police had previously received 10 complains about that condo

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen takes part in an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. A joint federal and B.C. government housing program announced today aims to help people living in up to 25,000 vulnerable households pay their rent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Federal, B.C. governments announce $517-million rent aid program to help vulnerable

Benefits for those not eligible for B.C.’s Rental Assistance Program or Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters

(BC SPCA)
Is it safe to give your dog some peanut butter? Not always, BC SPCA warns

Some commercial peanut butter ingredients can be harmful to dogs

Cole Moore with one of his sisters, Jasmin Moore. Photo supplied
Vancouver Island man looks to brain surgery for second chance

Fingers crossed that procedure can give Cole Moore a new lease on life after decade of seizures

Most Read