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On the front line of a crisis, overdose-prevention staff could use some help

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Kelly White kicks used needles to the side of the path where she walks to work in Toronto’s east end. Nearby, she can see people tucked behind cars, in alleyways, and even out in the open using drugs at all times of the day.

White is one of four front-line workers at an overdose-prevention site in the Moss Park neighbourhood at the crossroads of Sherbourne Street and Dundas Street East. The temporary site is operated by a non-profit organization called Street Health, which provides nursing care and harm-reduction services from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday.

Every day she hopes to bring drug users off the streets and into safer spaces, where they can use under the supervision of both medical professionals, and support workers like herself who have been trained on the job. But unlike safe-consumption sites, which are permanent and offer a wider range of support, overdose-prevention sites across Ontario were emergency, pop-up solutions to an escalating crisis that were never meant to be long-term.

In December 2017, Health Canada announced that it would allow temporary prevention sites like Street Health’s to operate across the country. The sites were given limited provincial funding for up to six months. But White says sites like hers are understaffed and under resourced given the size of the crisis they face.

As a result, the job can be stressful and demanding for those who work there. And when it comes to dealing with the mental toll of being on the front line of an opioid epidemic each day, workers like White say it feels like they’ve been left to help others without much help for themselves.

The reality is that it’s constant loss. It’s tough for this community. It’s tough for the people that work here.— Kelly White

“A lot of people that talk to me about the work that I do always ask how I do it,” said White from inside the small room where she sees clients everyday, surrounded by stockpiles of clean syringes and drawers labelled ‘crack pipes.’ “Honestly, to me, the hard part is bashing your head against a system that isn’t designed to help people.”

Although the Ontario government recently announced a new plan to replace existing overdose-prevention sites with more permanent safe-consumption sites, it’s not clear that it will provide any more support for front-line workers.

Reality is ‘constant loss’

White was one of the four original workers at the volunteer-run Moss Park tents that popped up last summer during a spike in overdose deaths. She has seen the devastation the Toronto community has faced with the continued loss of life to unsafe drug use.

Since the Street Health overdose-prevention site opened at the end of June, White said it has helped over 500 users by giving them access to a safe space and clean supplies. As the co-ordinator of the facility and one of the hands-on workers tending to clients, she’s also responsible for greeting visitors, prepping tables and responding to medical emergencies.

Street Health provides sterile injection supplies, overdose prevention and intervention, nursing and other services for clients. The site has served over 500 people since it opened in June. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Workers like White respond to overdoses daily, and some of the losses have been personal.

Holding back tears, she talks about her frustration and the difficulty of taking on an avalanche of problem that she believes requires more government intervention. Data from the federal government shows that, on average, more than 11 Canadians die because of opioids each day.

In Toronto alone, more than 300 people died of opioid overdoses in 2017, and the city has recorded 120 suspected deaths this year.

“The reality is that it’s constant loss. It’s tough for this community. It’s tough for the people that work here,” she said. “But at the same time, we wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.”

Donations only go so far

How do front-line workers cope with the work they do everyday? White says, “I’d say that primarily our support comes from being united in this battle, the relationships we build with clients and each other.”

Street Health has extended comprehensive benefits coverage to overdose-prevention site staff so that that they can get coverage for things like prescription drugs and dental care, White said.

Not all front-line workers are as lucky. In lieu of more comprehensive support, a GoFundMe page was set up to support staff at other Toronto area sites. The donations can be used toward massages, counselling, and acupuncture, but donations can only go so far.

“I’ve lost people to overdose, and one of the hardest parts is that people are not talking about this. … We need to bring things out of the shadows,” White said.

The Ontario government announced that it will allow 21 supervised drug-consumption facilities province-wide. The existing overdose-prevention sites will be expected to re-apply to become permanent facilities. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

She has tried to hold daily briefings to help process what staff witness. She said some days they barely have time to debrief because the demand to meet client needs is so high.

“One of the more difficult things here is that the work is so precarious. We’re only funded for six months,” she said. Funding for Street Health’s overdose-prevention site ends Nov. 30.

New model, new concerns

Last month, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott announced that it is capping supervised drug-consumption facilities at 21 sites province-wide, and will spend just over $31 million a year to fund these sites.

But how these sites will be distributed across Ontario is unknown. Also missing from the new model is any mention of support for front-line workers.

The current overdose-prevention sites will be expected to re-apply under the new provincial model to become permanent supervised-consumption sites, and White fears that will force established overdose-prevention sites like Street Health to compete for one of the limited spaces.

Open drug use is an issue in the Moss Park neighbourhood. Shortly after CBC News journalists interviewed White, they saw a man lying on the ground after what appeared to be a drug overdose. He was given CPR and taken away in an ambulance. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

“We are currently worried about losing the flexibility, responsiveness, lack of bureaucracy and red tape, and client-centredness that we have worked hard to maintain,” White said.

Steady funding would allow Street Health to hire more staff, and perhaps operate more than two stations for safe drug consumption. It would also allow a facility like Street Health’s to be open more days — like weekends — and later at night.

‘It’s extremely stressful’ on front line

One health industry expert suggests that going a step farther and putting safe-consumption sites under the umbrella of the Canadian health-care system would alleviate some of the stress that front-line workers experience, and provide them more help.

Paul-Emile Cloutier is the CEO and president of Ottawa-based HealthCareCAN, an association representing health-care providers in Canada. ​He says that if front-line workers burn out, the health-care system would be there to take care of them.

Cloutier says the injection site in Ottawa on Murray Street receives over 45,000 patients a year and cares for about 135 people a day. He says this safe-consumption site deals with about four to five overdoses a day.

“Front-line providers always work in a crisis environment and of course it’s extremely stressful,” he said. “We have to ensure that they are also well taken care of.”

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Post-vaccine surge? Michigan’s spring coronavirus case spike close to previous year’s autumn high

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(Natural News) The spike in new Wuhan coronavirus infections recorded in Michigan over the spring is similar to a spike seen during the 2020 fall season. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis, the state’s daily coronavirus case count averaged more than 7,000 for almost two weeks – before taking a slight dip to 6,891 on April 20. This echoed similar figures back in November and December 2020, which saw sharp rises in infections for those two months before plunging.

Back in autumn of last year, Michigan averaged more than 7,000 cases per day for a span of 10 days. New infections dropped slightly, then briefly spiked as the December holidays approached. It then fell to the low 1,000s for the succeeding two months – until ascending again in March.

According to University of Michigan internal medicine professor Dr. Vikas Parekh, the sudden increase in new infections could be attributed to several factors. Among the factors he cited was re-openings, which increased people’s interactions and mobility. Parekh said the loosened restrictions contributed to the spread of the highly contagious U.K. B117 variant.

“As the B117 variant spreads nationally, we will likely see other stats [with] their own surges – although I hope none are as bad as Michigan,” the professor remarked. He continued: “The milestone just tells us we are not yet in the clear, especially as we still have large portions of our population who are not vaccinated yet.”

Parekh also expressed optimism over the lower daily caseloads the Great Lakes State reported. He said he believes both cases and hospitalizations have plateaued and will likely decline soon. The professor commented: “[COVID-19] positivity has been declining now for one week, which is usually a leading indicator of case decline.”

Meanwhile, the state cited younger populations and youth sports, such as basketball, wrestling and hockey, to increase new COVID-19 infections. Because of this, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called to suspend youth sports and indoor dining in the state. She also exhorted high schools to conduct remote class sessions for two weeks to curb the spread of the pathogen.

Michigan still experienced the spike in cases despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the country

During the opening stages of the U.S.’s immunization drive against COVID-19, Michigan boasted of having one of the highest vaccination rates nationwide. A report by Bridge Michigan even noted the initial “frenzy for vaccines” that “far exceeded the state’s limited supply.” But things have appeared to turn around for Michigan, as it now struggles to reach the 70 percent vaccination rate needed for herd immunity.

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Scottish mom’s legs turn into a pair of “giant blisters” after first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine

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(Natural News) Sarah Beuckmann of Glasgow, Scotland, felt a tingling sensation in her legs and noticed a rash flaring up around her ankles a week after getting her first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine on March 18.

She also had flu-like symptoms right after the vaccination.

Beuckmann called her doctor to arrange an appointment the morning she noticed the rash, but by the afternoon her skin was already breaking out into blood-filled blisters. Blisters also appeared on her legs, hands, face, arms and bottom.

“I ended up asking my husband to take me to A&E,” said Beuckmann, referring to “accident and emergency,” the equivalent of an emergency room (ER). “When I got there, my heart rate was sitting at 160bpm, which they were very concerned about. I got put on an ECG machine.”

Doctors determine AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine triggers the rash

Medics carried out tests for HIV, herpes and other skin conditions to work out what triggered the rash, but all results came back negative. Doctors finally determined that the vaccine caused her rare reaction after carrying out two biopsies.

“Once they found that it was a reaction to the vaccine, they put me on steroids and that really seems to be helping my progress,” said Beuckmann. She had been advised by her doctor not to get the second dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine because of her reaction.

Beuckmann spent 16 days at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. She was discharged to recover at home. The 34-year-old mother of one is currently wheelchair-bound due to the bandages on her legs and blisters on the soles of her feet. She may need physiotherapy to help strengthen her leg muscles.

“They are starting to heal and they’re looking a lot better than they were but as the blisters started to get worse, they all sort of merged together,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

With the blisters merging, her legs have looked like a pair of “giant blisters.” Beuckmann admitted that at one point she feared her legs might have to be amputated.

Dermatologist agrees COVID-19 vaccine causes the blisters

Dr. Emma Wedgeworth, a consultant dermatologist and spokeswoman at the British Skin Foundation, agreed that Beuckmann had likely suffered a reaction to the vaccine.

“Vaccines are designed to activate the immune system. Occasionally people will have quite dramatic activation of their immune systems which, as happened in this case, can manifest in their skin” Wedgeworth told MailOnline. “This poor lady had a very severe reaction, which thankfully is extremely rare.”

It is not clear why Beuckmann, who works in retail, was invited for a vaccine. Scotland’s vaccine rollout was focused on people over the age of 50 when she got vaccinated, although vaccines are available to those who are considered at risk from the virus, or live with someone considered vulnerable.

At least 20 million Briton have had AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which drug regulators say causes a rash in one percent of cases. They say rashes caused by the jab tend to go away within a week.

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Trojan labs? Chinese biotech company offers to build COVID testing labs in six states

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In 2012, BGI acquired Complete Genomics, a DNA sequencing company and equipment maker. The funds for the $117.6 million purchase were raised from Chinese venture capitals. The company has expanded its footprint globally. According to its website, BGI conducts business in more than 100 countries and areas and has 11 offices and labs in the U.S.

People are concerned about China’s access to American DNA data

Some said that with Complete Genomics providing an American base, BGI would have access to more DNA samples from Americans, helping it compile a huge database of genetic information. Some also worried about the protection of the genetic information’s privacy.

According to a 2019 report from the U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), BGI “has formed numerous partnerships with U.S. healthcare providers and research organizations to provide large-scale genetic sequencing to support medical research efforts,”

There are three main reasons why many people in the biotech community and government have expressed concerns about China’s access to American DNA data.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, Evanina discussed the very likely scenario in which Chinese companies would be able to micro-target American individuals and offer customized preventative solutions based on their DNA.

Evanina asked: “Do we want to have another nation systematically eliminate our healthcare services? Are we okay with that as a nation?”

The second concern is that China may use DNA to track and attack American individuals. As the USCC report states: “China could target vulnerabilities in specific individuals brought to light by genomic data or health records. Individuals targeted in such attacks would likely be strategically identified persons, such as diplomats, politicians, high-ranking federal officials or military leadership.”

The third concern is that China may devise bioweapons to target non-Asians. Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, discussed it in his article “What Will China Do With Your DNA?” published by The Epoch Times in March 2019.

He wrote: “We know that the Asian genome is genetically distinct from the Caucasian and African in many ways. … Would it be possible to bioengineer a very virulent version of, say, smallpox, that was easily transmitted, fatal to other races, but to which the Chinese enjoyed a natural immunity? … Given our present ability to manipulate genomes, if such a bio-weapon can be imagined, it can probably – given enough time and resources – be realized.”

An article from Technocracy said: “China’s aggressive collection of American DNA should be doubly alarming because it can only spell one ultimate outcome: biowarfare. That is, genetically engineering viruses or other diseases that will be selectively harmful to U.S. populations.”

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