Editorial: Permanent state of drug crisis is unacceptable

No indication that the opioid crisis is waning says that what we’re doing isn’t working.

It was good news and bad news all rolled into one. Last week it was announced that Duncan’s overdose prevention site will continue to operate for another year, and their lease has been extended on Trunk Road.

That’s terrible news in the sense that it means we still have a pressing need for the site. It means there are still many people in our community addicted to drugs who risk fentanyl and overdose on a regular basis. An Island Health spokesperson said the opioid crisis we find ourselves in isn’t slowing down, let alone coming to an end. There’s no light on that horizon.

On the positive side, there have been no deaths among the 18,000 visits to the site since it opened in 2016. So it is doing its job: saving people’s lives. We only wish that job wasn’t necessary.

The overdose prevention site — which risks becoming a permanent temporary measure — is triage, needed, yes, but not long-term strategy.

The fact that there is no indication that the opioid crisis is waning says that what we’re doing isn’t working. We need to really think outside the North American box where we treat drugs primarily as a crime problem rather than as a public health problem. By any measure, the war on drugs, a concept we’ve imported from our neighbours to the south, has been an abject failure.

And no, it’s not acceptable to just wait and let those who are addicted die off one after another so the problem is solved by attrition, as we’ve sometimes heard suggested. Such an idea is horrific, and the antithesis of the morals and actions of a civilized society.

Right now, far too often, we’re treating the symptoms of the problem, whether it’s crimes like thefts, as addicts look to support their habits, or opening overdose prevention locations.

We will probably never totally eliminate drug addiction from our communities. But we need to look at root causes and invest in tackling those, or we will never change the status quo — and we don’t believe a permanent state of crisis is acceptable.

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