DARRYL DYCK / The Canadian Press
British Columbia declared a health emergency in April 2016 as a shocking number of people died from drug overdoses. Since then, 8,564 people have died from illegal drug poisoning – a death rate in the province that is now far higher than that associated with COVID-19.
Last October alone, 201 people died of drug overdoses in British Columbia – a new record for a month. That is the same number as in all of 2009. Ten months after 2021, the province had already recorded a record 1,782 deaths – more than in all of 2020.
The BC Center for Disease Control released data this week showing that drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for people ages 19 to 39 – people in their prime. It is the second leading cause of death among 40 to 59 year olds.
It is high time that the government’s response to this crisis was viewed as a pathetic failure.
As someone who has written on this subject many times, I know if you have read this far you are unusual. The fact is, the public doesn’t really care about people who die from a drug overdose. Or, if you care, is it the not-that-not-terrible-what-for-dinner? Variety of concern.
Deaths from the opioid crisis often make headlines. What is overlooked is the toll of survivors
For years, doctors, addiction specialists, psychologists and social workers, among others, have been saying the same thing: People who are addicted to dangerous drugs need safe supplies of everything they consume. Because the stuff they buy on the street contains lethal doses of fentanyl and methamphetamines and benzodiazepines. Stuff that kills them.
We tried to shame drug addicts into stopping. We tried to throw her in jail. We tried to get them into rehabilitation programs. Governments and public health agencies have tried all of this. And it doesn’t work. The problem is worse than ever because the stuff people buy on the street is more dangerous than ever.
Both the British Columbia government and the City of Vancouver have asked Ottawa to allow the decriminalization of small amounts of drugs for personal use so that users are not stigmatized and discouraged from seeking help. When this is through, it will help – a little. But the truth is we already have de facto decriminalization and it really made no difference.
The difference is the safe supply.
The globe and the post
Admittedly, this is not an easy topic. Doctors are reluctant to prescribe pharmaceutical opioids to replace illegal ones due to liability concerns. They are concerned about the tightened scrutiny of opioids and other narcotics prescriptions by the College of Physicians and Surgeons. As a result, most doctors do not want any part of the safe solution of care, even if they accept that it is the only way we in the province can reduce the number of overdose deaths.
And then what? We need a new model of safe care without doctors. Compassion clubs were mentioned as an alternative. These are places where people can get access to prescription drugs like heroin with few questions. It is a possibility.
But there needs to be a discussion between regulators and the medical community about other potential models. And that needs to be approached with some urgency.
But even as I type these words, I feel a sense of hopelessness. Distributing free drugs like heroin to “addicts” seems too big a leap for governments and society in general. It’s easier to accept that people are dying from their addiction. Which is just crazy when you think about it. Imagine that in just over five years, more than 8,500 people die from drug overdoses
than making the brave attempt to do something that could really make a difference.
What is there to lose at this point?
Portraits of loss: Hundreds of lives killed in an overdose crisis
I think the answer is voices. The reason governments are so reluctant to advocate for a secure utility solution is because you, the public, don’t believe they are ready for it. They don’t think the public – in many cases their constituents – would accept that.
So you don’t do it.
If the public agitated for governments to do something – anything – to address this shameful situation, it would have happened by now. So instead, let’s look at the steady drip, drip, drip of overdose deaths every day.
Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner of BC, said the other day, “Six more people will die of drug overdoses today, six more tomorrow, and six more the day after tomorrow. … It is a blemish for our province for the coming decades. “
And for that we all have to bear a certain responsibility.
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