Best friend’s drug overdose death leads to in-school naloxone training

The death of her best friend of an opioid overdose two years ago spurred Belmont ­Secondary ­student Sam Elder to bring naloxone training to as many of her peers as she can.

Abby Barker was 16 when she died in 2019, and Elder responded soon after by organizing a workshop at Belmont on how to administer naloxone, a drug used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. It’s commonly injected but can also be given as a nasal spray.

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Taking concrete steps after her friend’s death was important, she said.

“Not only [for] myself but my friends, Abby’s family — the grief that we faced after she passed, I didn’t want anybody else to have to go through that, especially at such a young age.”

The training led directly to someone saving a high-risk youth using naloxone a month later, Elder said.

Naloxone training was on again last week with a drop-in session at Belmont that, in turn, led to a round of training Wednesday at Edward Milne Community School. A second event was held Wednesday at Belmont, as well.

Participation has been “incredible,” Elder said.

“We received an overwhelming amount of support from not only students, but teachers, staff, community members, as well.

“Everyone is taking the initiative and realizing this is a super-important cause.”

Last week’s training attracted 133 students, and 62 naloxone kits were handed out — the entire supply. Another 57 people are on a waiting list for a kit.

Elder said she carries a naloxone kit with her “every day, wherever I go.”

Edward Milne student Hailey Whitmore, a friend of Elder, spread the word to her peers.

“I actually went around to every single class, Grades 10 through 12, and explained what was going on, where to go, what time,” Whitmore said.

She said Elder was her inspiration.

“I just wanted to do that for her,” Whitmore said. “It’s something that I take interest in, as well.”

She also carries naloxone with her, but has never had occasion to use it.

Knowing her father, an Otter Point firefighter, has naloxone training was one of the reasons she wanted to get it, too, said Whitmore, who also has CPR training, has taken lifeguarding courses and plans to become a nurse.

The death toll in B.C. from illicit drug overdoses so far this year was 680 as of June 1, including 176 in April, the worst month yet for opioid deaths. It also marked a 43 per cent increase in deaths from April 2020.

The province’s overdose death rate has nearly doubled since 2016, when a state of emergency was declared.

Edward Milne vice-principal Todd Powell said the school c­ommunity realizes the ­importance of what the students are advocating with naloxone training. He said about 25 per cent of the staff are trained, including him.

“This training was brought forward to just the staff a couple of years ago,” said Powell. “But it’s never been brought forward to the kids, which is surprising because they’re the ones that are going to be on the front line for much of this.”

Powell said he is impressed with the students’ initiative.

“They know where the need is,” he said. “Sometimes they know where the need is better than adults that are around.

“If they know that their own peers are leading the charge, they’re often going to pay attention to it a little bit more, I find.”

Elder said she has support from Island Health and expects the in-school naloxone training to continue.

“I personally will carry this cause with me wherever I go,” she said.

“This definitely is just the beginning.”

jbell@timescolonist.com

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