The Comox Valley Community Action Team (CAT) will draw attention to the drug toxicity crisis at International Awareness Day, Wednesday, Aug. 31 at Simms Park in Courtenay. The noon to 4 p.m. event will include speeches, performances and a memorial for loved ones. There will also be an educational component in terms of harm reduction and naloxone training.
The BC Coroners Service says the number of deaths due to toxic drugs between January and June of this year is the highest ever in B.C. in the first six months of a year. Most of the deaths were men 30-59 years.
“This public health emergency was declared in B.C. in 2016 and here we are six years later,” said Shari Dunnet, CAT project co-ordinator. Locally, she said last year had the highest number of fatalities recorded due to the poisoned drug supply, more than double the previous high of 17 deaths in 2017.
“The urgency we saw with COVID-19 is missing in our ‘other’ public health emergency,” Dunnet said. “Our systems demonstrated the capacity for a rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic but are stalled when addressing this crisis. Certainly much has been done but the numbers tell the story — we’re a long way from putting in place the comprehensive, health-based approach that’s needed.”
The crisis affects people from all walks of life, even those who appear have it together, Dunnet added. Stigma causes people to use alone, instead of reaching out for help.
There are many factors that contribute to substance use — which could stem from a job-related injury, or from an unresolved trauma.
“There needs to be a greater understanding of what is driving this crisis,” Dunnet said. “We need a new approach, actions, and we need urgency.”
Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns says the status quo is not working when it comes to the toxic drug crisis, which has killed more than 29,000 Canadians since 2016. He said an evidence-based response is needed to address root causes of substance use, to improve prevention and education efforts, and to expand a safer supply and harm reduction services. He is also calling for timely access to treatment and recovery services, and decriminalizing personal possession of controlled substances in order to reduce risks and barriers for people who use drugs.
“Rather than accept these mounting losses as inevitable, we must do everything we can to turn the tide on this tragic crisis,” said Johns, the NDP Mental Health and Harm Reduction Critic.