Canadian Professionals At Front-Lines Of Opioid Epidemic Fight Visit Utah, Discuss Strategy

Mar 21, 2019, 6:40 PM | Updated: 6:47 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Six Utahns die every week from an opioid overdose, and nationally the epidemic continues to cripple communities.

People on the front lines of the epidemic here in Utah welcomed their counterparts from Canada today to collaborate on the next wave of solutions.

Their latest ideas may seem radical to some in Utah, but the Canadians have a similar crisis on their hands.

“One of the things you can do is build trust and relationships. You’ve got to meet people where they’re at,” said Nick Boyce.

Boyce, the co-organizer of the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society, said that’s Canada’s approach to helping illicit drug users.

Health professionals, law-enforcement and substance abuse and mental health counselors from Canada and Utah today shared strategies at the Capitol to address the opioid epidemic.

In Canada, in 2017, they saw a 30% increase in opioid-related deaths. Despite the human toll the opioid epidemic has taken on our communities, Utah has actually seen a drop in the number of opioid overdose deaths over the last two years.

Traditional approaches in North America have focused on drug use as a criminal and moral issue. In Ontario, they’re focusing on a harm reduction model: building relationships with the users and directing them to services, even if it doesn’t happen right away.

“We think it’s better to not treat it as a criminal and moral issue, but, look at why people are struggling in the first place,” said Boyce. “Treat it as a health issue. If you reduce the stigma, people are able to come and talk more openly.”

He said they’ve done needle exchanges for two decades, an approach started in recent years in Utah.

Now, Canada is opening drug consumption rooms, also known as overdose prevention sites, where drug users can get high without breaking the law.

“People can bring in their pre-obtained drugs, and use on site,” said Boyce. “We have medically-trained staff that can respond in the event of an overdose.”

The key to that approach, he said, is making a human and productive connection with that person.

“A lot of people think we’re enabling drug use,” he said. “What were enabling is people to stay alive. We’re enabling them to come in and talk honestly about what’s happening, what’s going on in their lives without fear of judgment, without fear of criminal prosecution.”

At one consumption site in Toronto in January: 2500 injections, 90 overdoses reversed, and no deaths at any consumption sites.

“Nationally, this is a conversation that’s happening,” said Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist for the Utah Department of Health.

The state epidemiologist said we’re not there yet in Utah, but it is something to consider.

“It’s a conversation,” said Dunn. “So, it’s all about educating the public and policymakers about evidence-based practices to address the opioid epidemic.”

In Canada, it’s a progressive approach they expect will make it long term difference.

“Giving them needles, giving them the drugs. It’s about building the trust, building that relationship and then you have an opportunity for change there,” said Boyce.

Canada is also trying pilot program, in which they give the drug users pharmaceutical-grade opioids.

It’s a tough problem, they believe, that demands experimental solutions.

“Canada is doing some really innovative things that I think we can learn from in Utah to really take our interventions to the next level,” said Dunn.

KSL 5 TV Live

Local News

Thousands march in June 2021 Rainbow March...

Cary Schwanitz

Utah Pride Festival runs Thursday through Sunday in Downtown SLC

Preparations are all set for the 2023 Utah Pride Festival in Salt Lake City.

18 hours ago


Eliza Pace

Man barricaded in West Jordan home with gun

A man is holding a woman hostage in a home in West Jordan.

18 hours ago

Erik Alldredge, 14, stands in front of truck...

Pat Reavy, KSL.com

Utah teen charged with manslaughter in rollover crash that killed his friend

A 14-year-old boy has been charged with manslaughter in connection with a rollover crash that killed one of his friends.

18 hours ago

Follow @KSL5TVLike us on Facebook...

Eliza Pace

Volunteers desperately needed for Utah Valley Marathon

Managers for the Utah Valley Marathon said they are short about 250 volunteers.

18 hours ago

A treasure chest filled with $20,000 is pictured during a press conference in the Best Buy parking ...

Michael Houck

Utah Treasure Hunt 2023 releases first clue for $25,000 reward

The Utah Treasure Hunt 2023 has released its first poem clue for hunters looking for that $25,000 reward. 

18 hours ago

Farr West mayor asks Memorial Day vandals to step forward, take responsivity...

Michael Houck

Farr West mayor asks Memorial Day vandals to step forward, take responsivity

Farr West officials say some kids destroyed Memorial Day celebration lights while with a group of people on Saturday.

18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Brunette guy in headphones playing games on his desktop computer...

PC Laptops

Looking For a New Computer? Use This Desktop Buying Guide

Choosing a new desktop computer can come with a lot of questions, so we created this desktop buying guide.

Portrait of happy boy playing and splashing water in the swimming pool...

Get Out Pass

Family Fun Activities in Utah You Have to Try This Summer

These family fun activities will entertain you all summer, so if you ever feel stuck in a rut wondering what to do, refer to this guide!

Woman IT specialist in elegant suit working on notebook computer in data center next to server rack...

Les Olson

Your Complete Guide to Outsourcing IT Services

This guide covers everything you need to know about the different benefits of outsourcing IT services to meet your small business needs.

diverse group of friends dance outside under string lights...

Lighting Design

5 Frequently Asked Questions About Outdoor Lighting

Read for the most frequently asked questions about outdoor lighting to help narrow the search for your home.

Stack of old laptops with dark background...

PC Laptops

Old Laptop Upgrades You Need to Try Before Throwing it Away

Get the most out of your investment. Try these old laptop upgrades before throwing it out to keep it running fast and efficient.

Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...

BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.

Canadian Professionals At Front-Lines Of Opioid Epidemic Fight Visit Utah, Discuss Strategy