by Michelle Oleman
Vancouver BC, one of Canada’s largest and busiest port cities, is riddled with overdose victims – many ending up as dead bodies. At a ready to aid on the front line is Glenice Delorme, a young First Nations woman trained to administer Narcanon to overdose victims. She works with a team of first responders in the downtown eastside.
She lives at a Raincity Housing building in Vancouver. Here, she received training through the Overdose Prevention Society (OPS). Upon being asked how she felt about helping others and working with authority figures, she responds: “I think it’s great, we are peer-to-peer – addicts helping addicts. I think they trust us a little more than they would police or ambulance because we’re there to help them… keep them safe.”
Emphasizing the idea behind the Overdose Prevention Society’s mandate to help prevent death by overdose through trust and peer mentorship, one Vancouverite states that “… it’s someone else who has been on the street, walked in their shoes… pulled up her boots. More relative than some lady living in a penthouse suite who knows basically nothing about the person.”
During the interview at the trailer on Lot 62 W Hastings, one overdose actually occurs. First Nations Drum could not get any photographs of the action, but we did get a running commentary from the ante-room in the trailer.
The victim falls, and Glenice ushers me into the ante-room away from the drug user room. She points to a chair where I can sit and take notes.
The sounds of first responder’s voices are heard:
Female: “How long ago did he use?”
2nd Female: “He signed in 20 mins ago.”
Male: “What did he take?”
2nd Female: “Down [heroine] – in the arm.”
There are scuffling sounds as the responder team rallies around the victim, checking vital signs and assessing his situation. More voices are heard as they try to revive the victim.
Male: “Wake up buddy! Wake up or we’re going to Narc you!”
2nd Female: “Call 911! He’s got the… He needs some breath.”
More scuffling as oxygen is administered. I still cannot take a picture, though, the image of the young male – completely motionless – surrounded by people in orange safety vests etches itself in my memory. His lips are blue. Glenice closes the door.
Male: “Please don’t fight while we’re trying to save somebody’s life.”
A fellow user has recognized the victim: “I know him! His name is –”
Male: “Please step back, we need to help him.”
Female: “Yeah, you need to wait outside.”
The trailer door bangs shut as they escort the other user outside, and the team continues their work.
2nd Male: “Did you narc him? Narc him again!”
2nd Female: “Do you want me to make him another one?”
The victim stirs audibly.
Male: “He’s ok, I just gave him another one. He’s ok.”
Female: “He’s breathing.”
2nd Female: “There’s the ambulance.”
Possibly the most intense 5-minutes anybody could ever experience is over for everyone involved.
I later learned that it took a team of four first responders to revive this victim and call the ambulance within less than 5-minutes. The victim cannot be named, but he was taken to hospital in an ambulance and has hopefully survived this ordeal.
When asked about her recent experiences reviving young people, Glenice says, “so far, I’ve had to revive only one native victim. She was so young, she was only 17 and her [male partner] didn’t want me to help her. She was so tiny, maybe 80-pounds, and I had to narc her several times.” On another note, she adds, “It is so sad that we’re losing so many aboriginal drug users to the fentanyl because they are embarrassed and ashamed to come into our program for help, in case their families find out.”
Speaking to Lee (who wishes not to be photographed), the acting Overdose Prevention Society program director/ supervisor for this shift, states very solemnly that: “Definitely without a place like this, many will die.” He also states that this program is ongoing, growing and learning quickly. Along with Lee and Glenice, there are two more team members willing to share their brief experiences of working at Lot 62 E Hastings St., alley entrance to the tents and trailer just behind Pigeon Park Savings.
Samantha Boss lives in the downtown eastside, and has been working with OPS since just before Christmas time. This is one of the busiest seasons for overdose occurrences. “It can get to you, plus bring harm reduction,” she says. “It’s keeping me sober.”
Philip Tom from Burns Lake BC worked at Carnegie Center, The Gathering Place, and the former Downtown Eastside Street Market before the side became the OPS location. He says that “… it’s the most satisfying work I’ve done around here.”