Steve Muise, an outreach legal advocate with the Port Alberni Friendship Centre, runs a regular B.C. Photo ID clinic for people needing help re-applying for lost identification. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Steve Muise, an outreach legal advocate with the Port Alberni Friendship Centre, runs a regular B.C. Photo ID clinic for people needing help re-applying for lost identification. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Overdose deaths hit hard in Central Island region

Stigma surrounding drug use needs to change, says Community Action Team

Overdose deaths increased on central Vancouver Island in 2020, and officials say the crisis has been exacerbated by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In 2020, drug toxicity deaths increased by more than 50 percent on the Central Island, as numbers rose from 36 deaths in 2019 to 58 deaths in 2020.

For the purposes of the report, the Central Island is classified as Tofino to Parksville, Duncan to Courtenay, excluding numbers from Nanaimo. Information from the BC Coroners Service shows that there were 11 overdose fatalities in the Alberni-Clayoquot region alone in 2020.

“That’s a huge increase in one year in our community,” said Port Alberni’s Community Action Team coordinator Mary Clare Massicotte

But the opioid crisis is not just a Central Island concern. According to the BC Coroners Service, 2020 was the deadliest year of the crisis in the province’s history, with roughly five fatal overdoses a day across B.C.

Alberni CAT co-chair Ron Merk attributed most of this increase to COVID-19 and the provincial restrictions associated with it.

“We were in the right trend in 2019,” he told council. “Then, unfortunately for everybody, COVID-19 came along. What we have seen is the numbers have gone off the board even worse than when [the CAT] started in 2017. That’s the biggest cause-and-effect that we see. The worse COVID got, the worse the overdose crisis got.”

As community services were put on hold, he added, people ended up going to places where they used alone. Increased stress also fed the desire to use.

Merk explained that the majority of the overdose deaths in 2020 happened to men between the ages of 25 and 55 who lived in single-family dwelling units.

Merk agreed that stigma is “the single biggest driving force” of the overdose crisis.

“Not only for marginalized people, but for families, people who are using substances, it is so destructive,” he told council. “Everything tells us in the last 10-15 years, we need to get to a safe drug supply, we need to get to decriminalization of drugs and we have to move to a model…which puts forward the fact that drug use is basically an illness that needs to be supported by fixing the social problems that created it in the first place.”

In 2020, the CAT also completed a “Humans First” survey with funding from the First Nations Health Authority. With this survey, 30 Indigenous individuals with lived experience were asked a number of open-ended questions, to help give insight and suggestions for gaps in services and possible solutions.

Some of the key findings of the report note that access to affordable housing, stigma and access to supports and services are three of the biggest issues driving the opioid crisis in First Nations communities.

Merk noted that Indigenous populations are disproportionally represented when it comes to overdose deaths.

“That’s a major concern for us,” he said. “The trauma they’ve experienced has driven some of those numbers.”

Over the past few months CAT has also been promoting the use of the new “Lifeguard” app, which is designed to help people using illicit drugs get help if they overdose.



elena.rardon@albernivalleynews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

opioid crisisPORT ALBERNI

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Abby Dyer of Shawnigan Lake School. (Submitted)
Shawnigan Lake School poet wins to prize

Abby Dyer has won first place in the Senior Poem category in the Legion’s Youth Remembrance Contest

The Cowichan Valley Regional District has applied for a $199,000 grant to upgrade its emergency communication systems that are used during such events as the major windstorm that hit the Valley in 2018 (pictured).
CVRD looks to upgrade emergency communications with grant

Staff say communications issues plague emergency response efforts in area

A police car at the scene of a child’s death Friday, April 9, at the Falcon Nest Motel in Duncan. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
RCMP investigating child’s death at Duncan’s Falcon Nest Motel

First responders attended to a call about an unresponsive child at the… Continue reading

Brent Clancy, president of the Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce, takes down the signs at the Lake Cowichan Visitor Centre, which closed its doors for good on Jan. 31. Mayor Bob Day says the possible creation of a Town tourism committee is not a response to the closure. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Town of Lake Cowichan looking to form tourism and housing committees

Decision not related to the Lake Cowichan Visitor Information Centre closure

“Representing the school district, legion, and Kaatza Station Museum left to right are Georgie Clark of the museum, Wilma Rowbottom of School District #66 and Ernie Spencer, representing the Legion. The museum and Legion, along with the Village will each take a piece of the old wood shop.” (The Lake News)
Lake Flashback: Soapboxes, woodshop split, taxes down

Remember these stories from Lake Cowichan?

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

Most Read