I was struck by just how many crosses lined the Trans Canada Highway in Duncan on Wednesday as part of the National Day of Action on the overdose crisis.
There were 31 small white crosses placed about a half-foot apart running almost a half a block along the TCH, each representing a person from the Cowichan Valley who died of a drug overdose in 2018.
We at the newspaper usually report on these deaths as they happen, and it’s not lost on us just how devastating and horrific the ongoing opioid crisis is, but to see all of those crosses lined up in one place really brought home to me the cost of this drug epidemic.
I felt like I was in a First World War cemetery in France where crosses are lined up row after row commemorating those who died in battles long ago.
I couldn’t help but think that each of the individuals represented by these crosses had mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and friends who loved them and were crushed by their loss.
According to the BC Coroners Service, there were 1,486 drug overdose deaths last year in B.C. alone, an average of four a day, and new data released by the Public Health Agency of Canada indicates that more than 10,300 Canadians died as a result of an opioid-related overdose between January, 2016, and September, 2018.
When you consider those numbers, it does really feel that we are in the middle of a war where winning seems uncertain and a long way off, and the casualties continue to mount.
But what can be done?
Many communities, including Duncan, currently have overdose prevention sites where drug users are monitored when ingesting their drugs and qualified personnel are on hand to assist those who overdose.
So far, there have been no reported deaths in any of these nine sites that are in operation across Vancouver Island.
But the problem is that many users prefer to take their drugs at home, away from the public eye, likely because they don’t want to be associated with the stigma attached to drug users and bring shame and scrutiny upon themselves.
A few years ago, I had a chat with a former drug addict who managed to free himself from his addictions and was working in a detox centre to help others.
I asked him why people get into such destructive habits that tend to ruin their lives and adversely impact all around them.
He told me that, for many, it’s a means for them to get away, even temporarily, from lives full of emotional and/or physical pain and as they sink further into addiction, that escape becomes more necessary until the situation spirals completely out of control.
Last year, I asked Dr. Shannon Waters, a medical health officer with Island Health, if there was an end in sight to the drug crisis and the rising death toll.
She said the province is still far from that goal.
“There is no evidence that anything is changing for the better anytime soon,” Waters said at the time, despite numerous initiatives by government and other agencies.
“Unfortunately, we are still seeing a much higher death rate now than we have in previous years.”
I wonder how many crosses will be on the TCH during next year’s National Day of Action?