Aug. 13, 2021
UCalgary researcher is part of team receiving $2 million grant from Health Canada to fight overdose epidemic
COVID-19 social isolation is thought to have worsened Canada’s ongoing opioid overdose epidemic. Each day there are up to 17 overdoses in Canada and two to four in Alberta. The vast majority of the overdoses occur when people use alone. University of Calgary and University of Alberta’s Dr. Monty Ghosh, MD, knows that with the right support, overdose fatalities are preventable and overdoses are reversible. That’s why Ghosh, in partnership with Grenfell Ministries and Brave Technology Coop, launched the National Overdose Response Service (NORS) in December 2020 – a toll-free national overdose prevention hotline for all Canadians to end drug use isolation. Health Canada awarded a $2 million grant to support this critical work and to conduct a research study to evaluate the service.
“Since we launched, NORS has serviced over 2,492 calls and activated emergency response for 31 potentially fatal overdoses,” says Ghosh co-founder of NORS. “Our priority is to keep those who are using substances safe from overdose, while upholding substance users’ right to dignity, respect and confidentiality.”
The support from Health Canada will help to expand the service and conduct needed research. The team hopes to gain a better understanding of how the service can reach key demographics such as individuals who live in rural and Indigenous communities, BIPOC populations, and others who are often too far from harm reduction resources like supervised consumption sites.
The NORS hotline provides confidential, non-judgmental support and supervision for substance users, whenever and wherever substances are used. Anyone, anywhere in Canada, and in any circumstance, can access a community of supports.
“If someone is using drugs alone, they can call the hotline and speak with one of NORS’ supporters,” says Oona Krieg, chief operations officer at Brave Technology coop and co-founder of NORS. “The supporter will stay on the phone with the caller while the caller uses their substance of choice. If at any point they become unresponsive, NORS connects to 911 and dispatches an ambulance directly to the person’s location. Volunteers are available 24 hours a day, seven days per week.”
NORS is peer-driven. Volunteers are the lifeblood of the organization. The people answering the hotline have personal experience with substance use. Some are frontline health workers or have been personally impacted by overdose.
“The National Overdose Response Service is a labour of love. One built by the desire to reduce the body count from the opioid epidemic and build connections as peers with people who use drugs across Canada,” says Kim Ritchie, co-founder and executive director of NORS and Grenfell Ministries. “We can quantify the number of deaths, calls and overdoses reversed, but we can not quantify the connection a person feels knowing another cares when they call or the grief experienced by loved ones for the moments that never were. We are here, with no judgement and only love.”
NORS was co-founded by a group of individuals separated by thousands of miles, British Columbia to Ontario, and joined by a single vision. Ritchie, Krieg, Ghosh along with Gord Casey and Rebecca Morris Miller moved the vision to reality.
NORS needs additional volunteers to keep the hotline going. If you’re interested in volunteering, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Call NORS before you use drugs to connect with people who want to help you stay safe:
- (Canada only): 1-888-688-NORS (6677)
- Never Use Alone (US only): 1-800-484-3731
- Mobile App (Global): The Brave App
Sumantra (Monty) Ghosh, MD, is a clinical assistant professor in the departments of Medicine and Psychiatry at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) University of Calgary, and a member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, The Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research & Education and the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the CSM. He is an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.