Bring drug overdose plan to B.C. interior

To reduce drug overdose deaths, Vancouver Coastal Health authority plans to track patients to make sure they are taking their prescribed opioids.

image: IFL Science

I may seem odd that lives can be saved by making sure that patients take one opioid (Methadone) so that they don’t die from another (fentanyl). But that’s what statistics show. If patients stay on Methadone they’re more likely to be alive a year later.

It’s the first program of its kind in Canada and the latest effort to turn the tide on the opioid crisis that is projected to kill 1,500 British Columbians (Globe and Mail, Sept. 15, 2017). That’s up from 914 in 2016.

The problem is that patients have hectic lifestyles that make daily prescriptions difficult to take. As a result, only one-third are still on Methadone after a year. Laura Shaver, board member of the B.C. Association for People on Methadone, supports the plan:

“I would think it would be a great idea for many people that are, you know, a little bit unstable, for them to have a bit of a push behind them. With a bit of support, things could be a lot different.”

Rolando Barrios, assistant director at the Vancouver Coastal Health, sets his goal at 95 per cent Methadone compliance:

“We may not achieve that, but think about doubling the 30 per cent to 60 per cent . . . and the impact that would have.”

Tracking Methadone patients is labour intensive. The unregimented lifestyles of drug addicts make it difficult for them to make daily appointments. Starting this month, 20 teams, each comprising of three health professionals, will check on 3,000 patients to make sure they are taking their drugs.

Pharmacists will alert the teams if patients have not taken their daily dose. The team will then phone or visit the patient to check up. Participation in the program is voluntary: the teams are not policing patients.

The plan is modeled on the highly successful program to stop HIV/AIDS launched in 2010. It actively sought untreated HIV-positive people and followed up with an antiretroviral therapy. As a result, the transmission of AIDS was reduced by 96 per cent.

“With HIV,” says Dr. Barrios, “we used to wait until people had low immune systems before they started treatment . . . and then science came in and said we need to treat them earlier and faster. We learned that we needed to be aggressive.”

If the plan is so good for Vancouver, why isn’t it being applied throughout the province? Vancouver’s drug deaths may make news but the problem is worse in B.C.’s interior on a per capita basis.

Kamloops is bad -40 people died of drug overdoses in 2016- but Kelowna is worse. Kelowna led all Canada in per capita opioid poisoning hospitalizations. Vancouver was 16th. Kamloops didn’t make the top twenty but the program is needed here.

The Interior Health Authority needs to match the efforts of Vancouver Coastal Health. Users of prescription opioids need to be monitored. Only by reaching out will the death rate be brought down.

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By the time the trekkers got to Kamloops

In April of 1935 they left their miserable camps and made their way to Vancouver. The camps had been set up in the middle of nowhere. Young men worked in the military-run camps for 20 cents a day under deplorable conditions in dead-end jobs with no end in sight.

Canada’s History Magazine

The camps were designed to harsh. Prime Minister Bennett had reluctantly set them up as a concession to the unemployed victims of the Great Depression. He was opposed to anything that looked like a handout, including even the appalling camps. He told a labour delegation in 1930: “Never will I or any government of which I am part put a premium on idles or put our people on the dole (Canada’s History magazine, August-September, 2016).”

The camps didn’t have to be that way, says historian Bill Waiser of the University of Saskatchewan. “In contrast to the American Civil Conservation Corps, a popular federal work-for-relief program across the border, the make-work projects and isolating conditions of the Canadian relief camps aggravated the gloom of the men who were in them.”

About fifteen hundred desperate men arrived in Vancouver and were warmly received. Huge public rallies and parades were held. On Mother’s Day in Stanley Park, three hundred women circled the men in the shape of a heart.

As is typical, provincial and federal governments wrangled over who was responsible for the men. Finally the men decided to take matters into their own hands and trek to Ottawa aboard boxcars. About one thousand left Vancouver in June of 1935. Governments made no attempt to stop them –convinced that the trekker’s tenacity would dissolve in the cold trip through the mountains.

By the time the trekkers got to Kamloops they were cold, hungry and dispirited. Unlike Vancouver, no warm reception awaited them. Nothing had been done to prepare for their arrival: Mayor W. J. Moffatt and the chief of police flatly refused requests for help.

Kamloops had problems of its own with hordes of desperate, unemployed men in formal camps and informal “hobo jungles” says Mary Balf, former curator of the Kamloops Museum, in her book Kamloops 1914-1945. In one case, on May 1, 1931, men flocked into the city to complain about the poor conditions in these camps. Police closed the bridge from North Kamloops to limit the numbers.

“The work camps continued rather haphazardly until the summer of 1936,” says Balf, “but never really worked well. . . frequently they were so badly managed that even the promised wages were not forthcoming.”

After 300 men joined the trekkers from Kamloops, they were revitalized. As word of the trekkers spread, they were soon regarded as folk heroes. Washtubs of stew awaited them when they arrived in Golden in June. Calgary citizens were struck by the youthful innocence of the men.

More men joined the trek in Alberta but not my father. He was in a camp in Jasper at the time building the national park. He never told me about the camp conditions in Jasper. Perhaps he preferred to forget the depression and the stigma of unemployment. Perhaps, like some of the projects in the U.S., the building of parks gave purpose to his work.

As the popularity of the heroic trekkers grew, the federal government began to worry that they might actually get to Ottawa. By the time they got to Regina, the feds decided they would go no further. On Dominion Day in 1935, Regina police and RCMP raided a rally attended by thousands of trekkers and supporters. A riot ensued with hundreds of injuries and two deaths.

The trek ended but not without a cost to the feds. In October of 1935, Bennett’s government was defeated. A year later the camps were closed down.

Local content on the new aether

Medieval scientists believed that radio waves were carried through a medium they called the aether. Seems sensible. If sound waves require a medium, why not radio waves? It turns out that radio doesn’t need a medium; a vacuum will do nicely.

radio

     radio waves

The internet is the new aether. The “network of networks” depends on wires and optical fibers to carry signals. The internet wouldn’t exist without it (Wifi is radio but it’s just a connection to the internet).

We straddle both worlds –ethereal radio waves surround us while the internet remains wired. If I put up an antenna, I can receive CFJC TV for free. I chose to pay Shaw cable to have the station delivered to my house.

The internet is as disruptive as early radio and TV was and its role is still being defined. Is the internet a broadcaster? If CFJC is a broadcaster and if I can receive the same station over the internet, it would seem like it.

Not so. In 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments from program producers that cable companies were broadcasters. The court agreed with cable companies that they were not.

It’s not trivial matter. If traditional TV stations are broadcasters and cable companies are, then the cost of production local shows and news has to be paid for by the TV stations –they receive nothing for the signals that cable carries.

It’s a problem in small cities like Kamloops because local news and programming is expensive to produce and ad revenue is not as high as large cities.

In the past, cable and satellite companies have grudgingly paid into temporary funds to support local programming but it’s a constant battle. This has left small markets scrambling to make ends meet.

Local news is vital. It not only informs the community it serves, reflects its values, and is vital in emergencies. Rick Arnish, Chair of the Small Market Independent Television Stations Coalition (SMITS), was a strong advocate of local TV before retiring. He also supported free over-the-air TV for people who can’t afford cable. He made that clear in his letter to the Canadian Radio-television & Telecommunications Commission in 2015:

“Over 95% of the participants who posted comments on the topic of over-the-air television in the online consultation held during Phase 3 referred to the importance and value of the ability to receive television programs inexpensively over the air and opposed proposals to shut down transmitters. Canadians value local news, with a CRTC commissioned poll putting the number who consider it ‘important’ at 81%.”

Arnish also made clear that cable companies should share the cost of local TV if small stations are to survive.

“Moreover, all things being equal, with the phase out of LPIF [Local Programming Improvement Fund] now complete, the SMITS Coalition stations as a group will be in the red this broadcast year, given the loss of the $5.4 million contributed by LPIF last year.”

Before retiring last year, Arnish was Program Director at CFJC TV and General Manager of Broadcast Centre and later President of the Jim Pattison Broadcast Group.

The internet transmits the content from traditional sources without paying for its creation. Unlike the old aether which radiated local programming, the new aether sucks the life from local TV.

Pro-cavity groups proven wrong

Tooth cavities have increased in Calgary since the city stopped adding fluorides to its water in 2011 according to a study published in the journal Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology. Researchers from the University of Calgary compared the number of cavities in children for Edmonton, where water is still fluoridated, with Calgary where it is not.

natures-way-cause-tooth-decay

The lead author of the study is candid: “This study points to the conclusion that tooth decay has worsened following removal of fluoride from drinking water, especially in primary teeth, and it will be important to continue monitoring these trends.”

The pro-cavity groups –let’s call the anti-fluoridation groups what they are – ran a scare campaign against the fluoridation of Kamloops’ water supply in 2001 and won.

Like good scare campaigns, theirs contained an element of truth. Yes, fluorides are produced by chemical companies but to claim that they were dumping their toxic byproducts into our water was misleading. Yes, too much fluoride can lead to fluorosis but that would take much more than what was added to Kamloops’ water.

Let’s get the facts straight; ones that I challenge the pro-cavity groups to deny. All water is naturally fluoridated. As I said in my column of 2001 “All river water, well water, filtered water, reverse osmosis water, bottled water, and tap water is fluoridated.  The only water that isn’t is rain water collected in sterile containers, and distilled water.”

No wonder: Fluorine is the 13th most abundant terrestrial element. The concentration of natural fluorides depends on the acidity of the water and length of time in contact with rocks and soil. River water is less fluoridated than well water. Kamloops’ water is naturally fluoridated with more than one-half the concentration necessary to prevent tooth decay.

Fluoridation is nature’s way of reducing cavities. The benefits of fluoridation weren’t discovered by some mad scientist who experimented on his tortured patients by pouring fluorine down their throats. The benefits were discovered incidentally in the early 1900s by a Colorado Springs dentist, Frederick S. McKay, who noticed that many of his patients had brown stains on their teeth and reduced cavities. The brown stains were caused by too much fluoride (fluorosis). When the fluorides were reduced, the stains went away and the benefits remained.

If our water is already fluoridated, you might reasonably ask, why add more? At about 0.5 parts per million, Kamloops’ water doesn’t have quite enough. When I wrote my column in 2001, the recommended amount was 1 part per million but according the Calgary study, 0.7 parts will do.

Some countries act responsibly. I just returned from Mexico where I noticed that fluorine are added to salt, much in the way that iodine (another halogen) is added to ours to prevent of intellectual and developmental disabilities, and thyroid gland problems. Children in Mexico are protected from the pro-cavity groups.

I take the issue personally. While researching Kamloops before moving here, one of the appealing features was the city’s fluoridated water supply. My son grew up with flawless teeth due to fluoridation, dental hygiene, and heredity. I don’t know of any studies in Kamloops but my dentist tells me that he sees more cavities now, especially in low income families.

The dental health of Kamloops’ most vulnerable have been put at risk because of a misguided lobby.

How to market sugar water

There’s no doubt that consumption of pop is harmful, even deadly but you’d never know it from the soft drink industry. Professor Paulette Nestle, nutritionist at New York University, is blunt:

“The science is clear. Kids and adults who drink pop tend to be heavier and have a higher prevalence of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and tooth decay.”

coca_cola_bubbles

Studies funded by the soft drink industry find the opposite: roughly 85 per cent of them find pop to be harmless. And if there is a problem, they say, it’s your fault. No one is holding a gun to your head and forcing pop down your throat. The problem lies on the shoulders of individual consumers. It’s a matter of choice. If only consumers would exercise more.

However, consumers make choices on what they perceive about a product and the sugar water industry is persuasive. They spend millions of dollars on Super Bowl ads that avoid the product itself. Instead, they market deep emotional connections to friends and family. If I can find happiness in a can of Coke, why wouldn’t I drink it?

And if I can find my identity in a can of pop, all the better. Coke sells cans with my name on it and words such as Love and Superstar. Who wouldn’t want to support a corporation that supports the arts, community projects, and cleaning up the environment?

“When Philadelphia was considering a soft-drink tax, Coke offered to give the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia $10 million. It’s that kind of thing,” says the author of eight books in a newsletter from the Centre for Science in the Public Interest.

It’s a standard tactic used by the merchants of misery. You see it used by proponents of Ajax mine in Kamloops. They don’t address the problems that the mine will create: like toxic dust, groundwater contamination, potential sludge spills, the environmental headache created by the mountain of tailings when they leave.

No, Ajax mine tells us how important copper is to our daily lives, how they will create jobs, how they support our university and the arts. To oppose the mine is to oppose family and community, they would have us to believe.

The sugar water industry has learned from the tobacco industry that you can counter science by creating doubt. Sure, 99 per cent of studies might find that consumption of tobacco causes cancer but if only one study is inconclusive, then maybe tobacco is not that bad. It’s human nature to hope that something we want will be OK despite mounting evidence to the contrary, something we are addicted to or feel a deep emotional connection to, something that will create jobs.

Another tool in the toolbox is to fund groups like the Global Energy Balance Network. The group employed scientists of considerable stature who found that lack of exercise, not diet, was responsible for the obesity epidemic. Then a reporter for the New York Times discovered that these scientists had been taking millions of dollars in research grants from Coca Cola including funding of the website.

One of these scientists said not worry about eating less, gobbling junk food, drinking pop. Just be more active. Would it were true.

Kamloops Community Network -a vision unfulfilled.

 

Olds, not Kamloops, became Canada’s first gigabit town after big carriers refused to expand services. We could have had it before the Alberta town. Taking matters into its own hands, Olds launched a municipal Internet utility with 1 Gbps service.

Olds understands that high speed data connections are as important as any other infrastructure. Information highways are as vital as roadways in making small towns attractive places for innovative people to live and for business to thrive.

fast-internet-speed-1

To get some idea of just how fast 1 Gigabits per second is, I checked the speed of my internet connection at home in Kamloops. At a download speed of 28 Mbps, it’s a bit better than city average. But its only three per cent of what we could have had. You can check your speeds at the Global Standard for Internet Metrics (OOKLA), as well as checking local, national, and global speeds for comparison.

Former city technology manager Frank Mayhood had a vision for Kamloops in1998 after reading an article in Scientific American. He figured that all of Kamloops 25,000 buildings could be wired for less than it cost to build our water treatment plant.

We would have been the most wired city our size in Canada. And forget that old critism that public projects shouldn’t compete with private: Frank’s project wouldn’t compete any more than public roads do. “It’s like a port for ships or roads for trucks. The government builds ports and roads but private companies own the ships which dock and the trucks which drive on the roads carrying goods,” Mayhood told Kamloops This Week in 2001.

Not only did Kamloops City council think it was a good idea, so did provincial leaders. Kamloops MLA Claude Richmond said “This technology has not been used as comprehensively anywhere else in British Columbia. Kamloops has again shown itself to be a leader.”

The first phase was completed by stringing 50 km of optical fibre and the data speeds were blindingly fast, the capacity huge. Built in 2005 at a cost of $1.1 million, it connected city hall, the school district and the Thompson-Nicola Regional District. Right away, the city saved $25,000 a month in telephone costs.

Tony Klancar, Information Technology Manager for the City told me that they offer data rates of 10 Gbps but that’s only limited to the equipment attached to the backbone. Bandwidth rates of 100 Gbps for 450 users are possible on the Kamloops Community Network. And that’s not just the occasional top speed offered by some carriers; that’s a continoius 100 Gbps.

The second phase involved connections to businesses was a partial success. The third phase, however, which would connect all Kamloops homes, never happened.

The idea just seemed to run out of steam after Frank Mayhood retired, former city councillor Nancy Bepple told me. Without someone driving the vision, the demand waned.

What a shame. By leasing excess capacity, the city could have paid off the cost of infrastructure in no time. Telus obviously thinks that stringing up optical fibre is sound fiscal plan, picking up the ball that the city dropped. On a private highway, I still might get speeds of 1 Gbps.

Sports facilities, or any amenities, will attract people to city.

A taxpayer and his money are not soon parted.  So it takes a bold politician to suggest that taxes are a good idea.  That’s just what Mayor Mel Rothenburger did.  He recently quoted a study that says “in fact, there’s evidence to suggest that cities with the highest levels of taxation are, in many cases, the most progressive, healthiest and economically secure.”

  Kamloops

The study is by John M. Eger professor of Public Policy at San Diego State University in California who goes on to say “the successful cities and metro areas of the 21 st century will stimulated by their attractiveness to young, talented people.”

This flies in the face of conventional wisdom that says the way to attract business is to lower taxes.  The trouble with this plan is that other cities also lower taxes in competition.  It quickly becomes a race to the bottom which no one wins.

What brings business is young, talented people.  And what brings people to the city is amenities, like art, music, education, sports, parks, trails, lakes, fishing, golf, and river recreation.

Kamloops already has a unique, natural beauty and a mild, dry climate.  We already have many attractive amenities.  Those include UCC, a good hospital and health facilities, the art gallery, our symphony, professional theatre, and a lively arts scene.

If we attract talented people to Kamloops then business will follow.  And businessmen and women are like the people they hire – – they also look for attractive features in a city.

An example of this “people first” strategy is the move of Nav Canada to Kamloops.  Employees of the Flight Information Centre chose Kamloops as a place to live and that prompted Nav Canada built their new facility here.

Private developers help, but only the city can build the kind of public facilities and common spaces on a scale that make a significant impact.  Businesses can build facilities but they eventually serve the interests of shareholders.  We are the shareholders in Kamloops and public development serves us and our future.

The City of Kamloops hopes to develop the concept of the Tournament Capital of Canada through an ambitious sports complex plan.  Voters will go to the polls on Saturday to decide on borrowing money to build the proposed facilities.

Anything that involves even a modest tax increase is a hard sell.  Taxpayers are suspicious of governments.  There is a sector of voters who feel that governments are conspiring, with wild and harebrained schemes, to take their money.

Kamloopsians, like all British Columbians, have a love-hate relationship with taxes.  According to an Ipsos-Reid poll taken one year ago, two-thirds (67%) of BC residents think they are getting a good value for the taxes they pay to their local municipality.

But when asked how they feel about tax increases for new services or to maintain current ones, they are more ambivalent. Half (47%) said they don’t mind higher taxes, while half (47%) would prefer to maintain taxes even if it meant a reduction in services.

Saturday’s vote is complicated.  It requires a decision on more than spending tax dollars, or attracting talented people with amenities.  Some see the sports complex proposal as a way of developing local athletics and attracting high caliber athletes from across Canada.  For others, it’s seen as part of UCC’s promotion to be known as a university.

The linkage of marketing for the City of Kamloops and UCC produces a powerful message.  UCC already advertises Kamloops as a student-friendly, safe, city.  The sports complex, if approved, would not only attract people to Kamloops, it would attract students to UCC.   It makes sense for Kamloops and UCC to team up on marketing.

The idea of sports compliments a healthy, fit, outdoor lifestyle that Kamloops can rightfully claim.  Even for those who are not involved in sports, fitness has strong appeal for those considering a move to Kamloops.

Prudent tax spending on public facilities is a sensible expenditure.  The use of tax money to build the future of our city is based on sound business principles.  It’s a principle that developers of shopping centers use but on a bigger scale.  First, build an attractive facility that will attract customers.  Business will rent space because customers are coming.

It all starts with attracting people.