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Community Action Team to hold first outreach event

Drug User Open House
A memorial in Gibsons Landing for a local homeless man who died recently of a suspected overdose.

The Sunshine Coast’s Community Action Team (CAT) is holding its first outreach event since getting provincial funding – a Drug User Open House on Dec. 22.

The core of the team has been active on the Coast for a while, and Cari Miller was hired as project coordinator this fall, after the group received funding through a plan from the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions.

A total of $6 million was earmarked to support CATs throughout the province in 2018-19 and 2019-20. Groups like the Sunshine Coast CAT were eligible for up to $75,000. 

The CAT includes representatives from the health care sector, community outreach groups, local governments and the shíshálh Nation, as well as several so-called peers, people with experience as drug users, with the Community Resource Centre acting as the lead agency.

The goals are simple: ensure the community is addressing the needs of people who use drugs, improve services, reduce the stigma around drug use, and lower the risk of overdose.

At a recent meeting of the CAT, Miller said the idea for the Dec. 22 open house grew out of discussions with the peers.

“I thought it was important and there was momentum out in the community to do something right off the bat,” Miller said. “We’re addressing the most urgent need and that was to connect with people who use on the Coast and say here’s some of the safety resources available, here’s some of your peers who are probably dealing with a lot of the same issues.”

The event isn’t designed for the general public, but is open to people from across the Coast who use drugs, and is being billed as “a safe and confidential space.”

Miller said attendees would be invited to “sit down and have a conversation about what safety might look like and share their ideas with us.”

The CAT has developed a survey to help gauge where safe consumption resources are needed across the Coast and get feedback on other issues of concern to drug users. It’s also preparing a list of resources that will be available at the open house.

CAT members have already been active in trying to increase the number of people on the Coast with access to naloxone and the training to use it, as well as expand the availability of drug checking, so users can find if their substances are contaminated.

Testing is already available at both the Sechelt and Gibsons shelters.

“There’s lots of great ideas we’re going to be expanding on into the new year,” Miller said.

Some of the ideas discussed at the meeting included doing more outreach into the rural areas of the Sunshine Coast, where stigma around drug use often leads to people using alone to protect their privacy. A recent study from the BC Coroners Service found more than two-thirds of people who suffered fatal overdoses were using alone.

The CAT also plans to continue working closely with shíshálh Nation, the RCMP and the Sunshine Coast Regional District, as well as seeking the input and expertise of people who currently use or have used in the past.

Since a change in how Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) reports its numbers, statistics on the impact of overdoses on the community have been difficult to come by.

VCH has said as recently as this summer that the Sunshine Coast Local Health Area had one of the top three highest rates of illicit drug overdose deaths within VCH territory.

Updating council on Dec. 5, after attending her first CAT meeting as Sechelt mayor, Darnelda Siegers said she was aware of three deaths in the past three months. She also said sharing information with the wider community is part of the CAT’s mandate.

“We have been hearing from the community that they want to know what the situation is here on the Coast,” Siegers said.

The Drug User Open House is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 22 at the community meeting room at the Sechelt Library. 

Contact Cari Miller for more information: [email protected] or 604-767-9307.