Coun. Jesse Ketler of Cumberland wants to see opioid deaths declared a national public health emergency.
The issue has struck close to home for her, as she opened up at the most recent meeting about the death of her step-brother from opioids two years ago, saying one of the obstacles is public perception and notions of overdosing.
“It really is a mis-characterization of what’s happening out there,” she told council at the April 12 meeting. “Implying that he overdosed just isn’t correct. He was poisoned by a toxic drug supply…. I think it kind of devalues the person when we just categorize it as an overdose.”
In her step-brother’s case, the issue was what was in the drug, specifically a small amount of carfentanil, though he did not intend to use any fentanyl.
“All sorts of drugs are contaminated with fentanyl or fentanyl derivatives,” she said.
All members on council agreed with the need for a new approach. Coun. Vickey Brown thanked Ketler for bringing the matter forward.
“It’s generally not overdoses, it’s bad drugs,” she added.
Mayor Leslie Baird also spoke about the proposed resolution to put pressure on the federal government.
“It’s taking us so long as a country to accept this and actually do something about it,” she said. “The government needs to step up to the plate.”
Council unanimously passed a resolution to call on the federal government to treat the issue as a public health emergency.
Ketler, who also chairs the Comox Valley Regional District board, brought the matter to council following a similar resolution that Coun. Melanie McCollum had brought to council in Courtenay, which also passed unanimously. These moves were prompted by correspondence from a group called Moms Stop The Harm, and Ketler added that many local governments have brought forward resolutions in response.
The resolution cites a number of factors in support of a new approach to narcotics, including the number of deaths — every two hours on average for a total of 16,360 between January 2016 and last March — as well as the progress countries have made through the legal regulation of drugs and support from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police for decriminalization for simple possession as a way to reduce the public health and safety risks.