More people in Lake Country are turning to controlled substances as a means of coping with stress, anxiety and isolation over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lake Country Health hosted a free public naloxone training session on Feb. 23, something they do at least twice a year in response to B.C.’s opioid crisis. Twelve people attended to learn how to administer the substance that can be life-saving in the event of an overdose.
Melissa Scaman, executive director of Lake Country Health, says the pandemic has brought about more instances of substance use, a trend that’s inextricably tied to a rise in mental health issues.
“Since 2020, we’ve definitely seen a pretty sharp increase in mental health issues amongst the population,” she said. “And we have seen a pretty sharp increase amongst the population of people just using substances as a coping mechanism.”
Scaman said the majority of people coming to them with substance abuse issues aren’t jobless or street entrenched.
“The majority of people who live in this area who are struggling with substance use actually are pretty high functioning people,” she said.
“We have seen a lot of people coming forward who are, for instance, just coping with the isolation, or coping with financial issues that have been caused by all the lockdowns, by using substances.”
The process for administering naloxone is fairly simple, but it’s important to know the procedure well to be prepared for a stressful situation.
“We can show people how to do it in as little as 10 minutes,” Scaman said. “It’s a simple process but I think getting people to practice and walking through the steps with them is really helpful to make sure that it gets done properly if you ever are in that situation.”
Lake Country Health welcomes businesses or organizations that want to get their staff trained in naloxone administration. Groups can call Lake Country Health at 778-215-5247 to set up a training session free of charge.
However, naloxone is a last resort, and Scaman would like to see better preventative measures put in place in the community. As a start, she would like to see a focus on affordable housing.
“It’s a huge issue not just in Lake Country but obviously Kelowna, Vernon, the whole region. If you don’t have a stable place to live and if you can’t maintain your housing, that is a huge stressor,” she said.
Better mental health supports are also needed, Scaman says, and they need to be frontline support — in other words, support that doesn’t require a referral from a doctor.
“Over half the people in this community don’t even have a family doctor,” she said. “So you shouldn’t be creating bottle necks to get access to mental health services. I should be able to go to a clinic just like I go to find a doctor or a nurse, walk in and get access to mental health, the same way we access physical health.”
Lake Country Health is a registered charity that offers ongoing support for community members through mental health programs including harm reduction, counselling and group therapy.