by Amanda Erickson, Nelson Fentanyl Task Force
The Nelson Fentanyl Task Force was founded in 2016 by Interior Health, the Nelson Police Department, and ANKORS, to respond to the overdose/opioid crisis in British Columbia. Task force interagency meetings are inclusive of healthcare workers, emergency responders, social service workers, and peers (people with lived and living experience of substance use). The task force has met monthly for the last five years.
In September, the task force released a report with recommendations to improve healthcare equity for peers in the West Kootenay. The full report, “Nelson Fentanyl Task Force Interviews Project: Peer Equity and Healthcare Equity in the West Kootenay,” will be made available to the public on the ANKORS website in the next few weeks.
Here are the needs identified for the West Kootenay: housing; more access to opioid agonist therapy; youth detox; youth treatment; access to safer supply; adult treatment beds; access to doctors and nurse practitioners; pharmacy delivery; long-term trauma therapy; ongoing anti-stigma work; expanded access to low-barrier services like overdose prevention sites; ongoing education on harm-reduction practices; more youth services; more Indigenous social services; outreach peer teams; and outreach healthcare teams.
The interviews in the report are with healthcare workers, peers, emergency responders, social service providers, and outreach workers who live and work in the region. The interviews project is a collaboration with ANKORS, and with REDUN, the Rural Empowered Drug Users Network, which is our regional peer support network.
Nelson Fentanyl Task Force has expanded to more funded groups throughout the West Kootenay. The groups, called community action teams, have expanded to meet in Castlegar, with the Castlegar Fentanyl Opioid Working Group, and to Grand Forks with the Grand Forks Community Action Team.
All groups are funded by the Overdose Emergency Response Centre, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, and Community Action Initiative. This work is done in collaboration with ANKORS as the agency that administers the grants. ANKORS provides social service support, referrals, and harm reduction support for people throughout the West and East Kootenays.
Amber Streukens works with ANKORS and is the co-author of the interviews project. “Starting with relationship-building, collectively we have the power to shift stigma, to impact public health policy, to develop the tools we need to reduce the harms associated with illicit substance use, to ultimately curb the tragic loss ravaging our communities,” she says.
The focus of the Nelson Fentanyl Task Force work is to improve local response to the overdose crisis, to improve substance use/mental health and healthcare services, and to reduce death due to overdose. The three groups have grown to over 300 local members, with many actively involved in healthcare, social services, and emergency response.
The community action teams focus on reducing stigma, advocating for improved local services, providing educational opportunities for our communities, and improving interagency collaboration. We are also able to use funds to provide direct outreach services to our local vulnerable populations.
As the Nelson Fentanyl Task Force facilitator, I am grateful for the dedication of local healthcare, emergency responders, and social service workers in the area. With the intersection of the COVID-19 pandemic and the overdose crisis, many people are struggling with isolation, mental health issues, and substance use.
Now, more than ever, we need to come together to support each other and reach out to those who may be struggling. I am honoured to work with many devoted workers throughout the region. We work to find new ways to respond compassionately to the overdose crisis and to reduce risk of overdose for our local populations.
Local community action team members will continue to provide education, provide access to naloxone training, and work together collaboratively in the region into 2022. There is continued work to be done to support greater healthcare equity for people who use substances.
To join the Nelson Fentanyl Task Force, the Castlegar Fentanyl Opioid Working Group, or the Grand Forks Community Action Team efforts please contact me at email@example.com.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, please reach out for support. Call 310-MHSU (6478) or call ANKORS at 1-800-421-AIDS (2437) or 250-505-5506 or talk to a doctor or counsellor.
Amanda Erickson is community action team co-ordinator with the Nelson Fentanyl Task Force.