TRURO, N.S. – Al McNutt knows the opioid crisis is a growing problem, but he’s pleased to be part of a group that’s taking proactive steps.
McNutt is director of the Northern Healthy Connections Society (NHCS), which recently received $160,000 in funding to help mitigate the negative effects of opioids on Nova Scotians.
The society is part of the Harm Reduction working group, which also includes the Sharp Advice Needle Exchange (Cape Breton) and Mainline Needle Exchange (based in Halifax). The group provided a plan and Nova Scotia Health and Wellness provided funding.
“They’re trying to be proactive and get ahead of the crisis a bit by having information, awareness and services in place,” said McNutt. “There are a lot of overdoses out west and we would be naïve not to expect things to migrate east.”
The recent funding allows the NHCS to purchase supplies and continue to provide outreach services throughout the northern zone (Colchester, East Hants, Cumberland and Pictou counties).
The agency is forging partnerships with pharmacies in rural areas to ensure needles are collected and disposed of safely, and works in partnership with First Nation communities to empty their safe-disposal containers. It is working with the Opioid Council of Cumberland County to have a fixed site open a few afternoons a week as part of a pilot project, and hopes to do the same in Pictou County in the near future.
Naloxone training has been provided to EHS workers and to volunteer medical first responders.
“We’re just scratching the surface,” said Karen Kittilsen Levine, NHCS harm reduction coordinator. “We collected 12,000 needles during one trip to Pictou County. There’s so much that needs to be done. People often don’t realize what the situation is.”
There had been 39 confirmed, and 11 probable, opioid toxicity deaths in N.S. in 2017, as of the end of October.
McNutt said many people feel opioid addiction is something that won’t personally affect them, but members of any family can become addicted.
“These are people’s family members,” he said. “They’re sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, mothers and fathers. Don’t kid yourself and think your family is exempt from these issues.
“We have to get away from the perceptions about addiction and be more empathetic and understanding. Often people perceive those under the influence of drugs as being less intelligent or lower on the socio-economic scale, but many of the people battling addiction are highly educated. There are multiple reasons people end up taking these drugs and it can happen to anyone.”
The Northern Healthy Connections Society invites everyone to drop by the Christmas open house at 33 Pleasant St. on Friday, Dec. 8, from 1-4 p.m. Learn more about the programs, enjoy a chat and enjoy some snacks and refreshments.