FILE – A injection kit is seen inside the newly opened Fraser Health supervised consumption site is pictured in Surrey, B.C., Tuesday, June 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

FILE – A injection kit is seen inside the newly opened Fraser Health supervised consumption site is pictured in Surrey, B.C., Tuesday, June 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

‘We’ve been there before’: National phone line launches to prevent overdose deaths

The initiative comes at a time when overdose deaths are spiking

A new Canada-wide phone line aims to prevent deadly overdoses by connecting anyone who is alone and using drugs with peers who can quickly call for help if things take a bad turn.

“People who have experience with overdose, or peers, have kind of a gut feeling or gut sense about what’s happening and what’s going wrong, because we’ve been there before,” said Rebecca Morris-Millerwho founded Grenfell Ministries in Hamilton after years of drug use, homelessness and run-ins with the law.

The National Overdose Response Service, or NORS, is a collaboration between Grenfell Ministries and Brave Technology Co-op, which operates in Vancouver and Columbus, Ohio.

Anyone in Canada using a potentially deadly substance can dial a toll-free number and have someone standing by to call for help if needed. A volunteer checks in periodically and calls 911 if there’s no response.

The caller can also provide contact information in advance for someone nearby with a naloxone kit — a helpful option to reverse an overdose in remote areas with long emergency response times.

The phone line can be a connection to treatment and social services without pressure or judgment, said Morris-Miller.

“You have to meet people where they are at and let them make their journey towards you.”

Grenfell Ministries runs peer support and outreach groups and, in February, set up an overdose response phone line serving Ontario.

NORS is starting out with 16 peer volunteers and is looking for more. A peer can be an active or recovering drug user or a front-line worker.

The initiative comes at a time when overdose deaths are spiking.

A recent federal report says there were 1,628 apparent opioid toxicity deaths between April and June of this year, when the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

That’s a 58 per cent increase from the first three months of the year and the highest quarterly count since Ottawa first started keeping track in 2016.

“We have this awful pandemic going on and people are trying to access services, but a lot of places got closed,” said Grenfell executive director Kim Ritchie.

“The border shut down, so the drugs got cut with wilder and wilder stuff, causing more death.”

Ritchie said everyone involved in the project had a “driving passion” to do something.

“You can’t treat an addict that’s already dead,” she said.

“I’ve buried so many.”

Oona Krieg, Brave’s chief operating officer, said NORS can reach people without cellular data or Wi-Fi.

Brave has several technological offerings to keep drug users safe — all co-designed by people with personal experience — including a mobile app linking drug users with remote supervision.

Other products include buttons that can summon help and sensors that can detect if there is someone motionless inside a washroom or other enclosed space.

“It just seemed like another tool to put in the proverbial tool belt,” Krieg said of NORS. “We need a multitude of solutions. This problem is so incredibly complex, incredibly multi-faceted.”

Dr. Monty Ghosh, a physician who treats vulnerable patients in Edmonton and Calgary, said he learned about what Brave and Grenfell Ministries were doing separately and suggested they link up on a national scale.

He worked on getting Health Canada’s blessing and will evaluate how effective it is.

In 2016, a telehealth patient in northwestern Alberta told Ghosh that he would use drugs with a friend in Edmonton over FaceTime on their cellphones, so each could get help if the other overdosed.

“The patient had a brilliant idea that I felt needed to be implemented,” said Ghosh. Alberta had a remote supervision pilot in the works, but the United Conservative government paused it earlier this year.

Provincial data shows the vast majority of overdose deaths happen in homes and outside downtown cores.

Ghosh added that supervised consumption sites are effective at preventing overdose deaths within a 500-metre radius. NORS is meant to reach drug users who live too far beyond that or would be reluctant to visit a site because of the stigma.

“It really is a life-saving intervention at its core.”

National Overdose Response Service: 1-888-688-NORS (6677)

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

opioidsoverdoseoverdose crisis

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

Flooding has become a reality for many communities in the Okanagan Valley as the region faces more extreme weather storms, blamed on the impact of climate change. (File photo)
Okanagan high target for spring flooding

Higher snowpack and mild winter precipitation levels raise concerns for Canada’s insurance industry

Snow covers Main Street in downtown Penticton Monday morning, Jan. 25, 2021.
First snowfall of 2021

Chances of light snow all week

Crystal Johns used her lunch break to film her audition video for the Vancouver Canucks.
VIDEO: Former Vees anthem singer wants to bring her voice to the Canucks

Crystal Johns made her audition tape during a lunch break

The Village of Keremeos is preparing to open up the village to in-province travellers as the province enters Phase 3 of its reopening plan. (Brennan Phillips - Keremeos Review)
Electric vehicle use continues to rise in Keremeos

August saw 147 vehicles for the peak of the year

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

Auldin Maxwell stacks the 693rd block on the top of record-breaking Jenga tower on Nov. 29. (Submitted)
Salmon Arm boy rests world-record attempt on single Jenga brick

Auldin Maxwell, 12, is now officially a Guinness world record holder.

The fine for changing lanes or merging over a solid line costs drivers $109 and two penalty points in B.C. (Screenshot via Google Street View)
B.C. drivers caught crossing, merging over solid white lines face hefty fine

Ticket for $109, two penalty points issued under Motor Vehicle Act for crossing solid lines

A registered nurse prepares a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Yukon’s Minister of Community Services, John Streiker, says he’s outraged that a couple from outside the territory travelled to a remote community this week and received doses of COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan-POOL
Couple charged after travelling to Yukon to get COVID-19 vaccine

The maximum fine under the emergency measures act is $500, and up to six months in jail

Metis Nation of B.C. President Clara Morin Dal Col poses in this undated handout photo. The Metis Nation of B.C. says Dal Col has been suspended from her role as president. The Metis Nation of B.C. says Dal Col has been suspended from her role as president. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Metis Nation of B.C. *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Metis Nation of B.C. suspends president, citing ‘breach’ of policies, procedures

Vice-president Lissa Smith is stepping in to fill the position on an acting basis

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in the in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Payette shouldn’t get same benefits as other ex-governors general: O’Toole

Former governors general are entitled to a pension and also get a regular income paid to them for the rest of their lives

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News file)
Two Kelowna flights flagged for COVID-19 onboard

The flights were on Jan. 14 and 18

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

A Dodge Ram pickup similar to this one was involved in a hit-and-run in Lake Country on Saturday, Jan. 16. (Crime Stoppers photo)
Stolen truck involved in Okanagan hit-and-run

Incident happened on Highway 97 in Lake Country just before 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16

Most Read