Corey Ranger was on one of his daily lunch time walks when he came across someone on the cusp of death.
The man was near Bastion Square; his breathing shallow and his lips blue. Ranger, a registered nurse who has worked for a decade with vulnerable populations, immediately recognized the person could be overdosing on opioids.
Ranger whipped out one of the naloxone kits he carries around in his unicorn fanny-pack and began preparing the medicine.
A crowd began to draw around him, and from behind him Ranger heard a young man shout: “Just let him die for f**k’s sake.”
While Ranger was irked, he felt worse for the person he was helping.
“It’s awful; that person wasn’t doing very well and then they hear that,” Ranger said. Over the years, however, Ranger’s heard it all. “Working in the field you see a lot of people have either substance use, mental health issues or circumstances viewed through a moral sense, and it makes people feel emboldened to say very hurtful things.”
The problem, Ranger said, is a lack of education which only exacerbates the problem.
“It’s statements like that which result in a spiraling stigma that makes people feel even more isolated,” he said. “The more isolated you are, the more likely you are to have an overdose.”
Since Ranger moved to Victoria from Alberta eight months ago, he’s come across three overdoses: one near Bastion Square, one near the Royal Jubilee Hospital and one in a high-end bar.
The common factor in all of these situations was that the people were using alone.
“Drug use happens across all demographics,” Ranger said. “The only difference for those in poverty is that they don’t have walls to hide behind.”
The BC Coroner’s Service reported that between January and October, 702 people died of illicit drug overdose in B.C., including 40 in Victoria. Of these, 77 per cent were men, most of whom were using alone at home.
While Ranger said sometimes the public feedback is demoralizing, it’s important to remember it comes from a place of ignorance, which he tries to tackle ignorance in the form of a conversation. One thing to point out is that 2019 saw the first decline in opioid overdose deaths since 2012 thanks to ongoing efforts with harm reduction services.
“Get yourself informed; there’s a lot we can do at every level to promote change and to promote positive outcomes for people,” he said. “Learn about what you’re making this comments on, and go get some naloxone training.”
Anyone who may need information on opioids, including overdose treatment and outreach services, can check out Black Press Media’s 2019 Overdose Prevention Guide available at vicnews.com/e-editions.