Last week in Duncan two people overdosed on the street. It is due to the heroic efforts of a passing nurse from Courtenay and other first responders that they are still alive.
They are two faces of the opioid crisis that continues to ravage our province, from our most urban cities to our smallest towns. How bad is it? In May, the BC Coroners Service recorded the highest number of deaths from overdoses in a single month in this province, ever. A horrifying 170 people died last month from overdose.
The numbers begged the obvious comparison, and it was swiftly made. The total number of deaths in our province due to our other current health emergency, COVID-19, was 168 as of the middle of last week. More people have died from overdose in just one month. And yet look at the discrepency and urgency with which we treat the two problems. We have done an excellent job of taking the necessary measures against COVID-19. We have done an abysmal job of addressing the opioid crisis.
Thus far, we have largely treated opioid addiction and use as a crime problem rather than a health problem. How is that working for us?
All the evidence we have tells us that what we are doing now isn’t working. We need to try something new. We need to provide a safe supply of drugs to those who are addicted that they can take in a managed setting to prevent overdoses and deaths. Providing the drug supply will not only ensure its safety for those who are taking these substances, it will significantly reduce the crime that surrounds drug dealing and use since there will be no need to steal to afford a fix, and no need for the violence that infests the drug trade.
“Soft on crime!” We can hear the howls now. But that’s the whole point. We need to decriminalize drug addiction. Then maybe we, and especially our politicians making the decisions, won’t feel so beholden to be “hard” on anything.
It’s not a cure-all, of course. There’s lots more beyond that that needs to be done, as keeping people addicted shouldn’t be the end goal, though as distasteful as some may find it, we will have to accept that some will remain dependent for the rest of their lives.
We have listened to Dr. Bonnie Henry to guide us through COVID-19. Why haven’t we listened to her when she recommends decriminalizing drug possession for personal use?
The only end if we stay on our current path is more early graves.