Steve Muise, an outreach legal advocate with the Port Alberni Friendship Centre, runs a regular B.C. Photo ID clinic for people needing help re-applying for lost identification. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Steve Muise, an outreach legal advocate with the Port Alberni Friendship Centre, runs a regular B.C. Photo ID clinic for people needing help re-applying for lost identification. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Overdose deaths hit hard in Central Island region

Stigma surrounding drug use needs to change, says Community Action Team

Overdose deaths increased on central Vancouver Island in 2020, and officials say the crisis has been exacerbated by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In 2020, drug toxicity deaths increased by more than 50 percent on the Central Island, as numbers rose from 36 deaths in 2019 to 58 deaths in 2020.

For the purposes of the report, the Central Island is classified as Tofino to Parksville, Duncan to Courtenay, excluding numbers from Nanaimo. Information from the BC Coroners Service shows that there were 11 overdose fatalities in the Alberni-Clayoquot region alone in 2020.

“That’s a huge increase in one year in our community,” said Port Alberni’s Community Action Team coordinator Mary Clare Massicotte

But the opioid crisis is not just a Central Island concern. According to the BC Coroners Service, 2020 was the deadliest year of the crisis in the province’s history, with roughly five fatal overdoses a day across B.C.

Alberni CAT co-chair Ron Merk attributed most of this increase to COVID-19 and the provincial restrictions associated with it.

“We were in the right trend in 2019,” he told council. “Then, unfortunately for everybody, COVID-19 came along. What we have seen is the numbers have gone off the board even worse than when [the CAT] started in 2017. That’s the biggest cause-and-effect that we see. The worse COVID got, the worse the overdose crisis got.”

As community services were put on hold, he added, people ended up going to places where they used alone. Increased stress also fed the desire to use.

Merk explained that the majority of the overdose deaths in 2020 happened to men between the ages of 25 and 55 who lived in single-family dwelling units.

Merk agreed that stigma is “the single biggest driving force” of the overdose crisis.

“Not only for marginalized people, but for families, people who are using substances, it is so destructive,” he told council. “Everything tells us in the last 10-15 years, we need to get to a safe drug supply, we need to get to decriminalization of drugs and we have to move to a model…which puts forward the fact that drug use is basically an illness that needs to be supported by fixing the social problems that created it in the first place.”

In 2020, the CAT also completed a “Humans First” survey with funding from the First Nations Health Authority. With this survey, 30 Indigenous individuals with lived experience were asked a number of open-ended questions, to help give insight and suggestions for gaps in services and possible solutions.

Some of the key findings of the report note that access to affordable housing, stigma and access to supports and services are three of the biggest issues driving the opioid crisis in First Nations communities.

Merk noted that Indigenous populations are disproportionally represented when it comes to overdose deaths.

“That’s a major concern for us,” he said. “The trauma they’ve experienced has driven some of those numbers.”

Over the past few months CAT has also been promoting the use of the new “Lifeguard” app, which is designed to help people using illicit drugs get help if they overdose.



elena.rardon@albernivalleynews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

opioid crisisPORT ALBERNI

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A donated towel warms a merlin chick. Photo supplied
MARS Moment: 2021 shaping up to be a record-setting year for animal rescues

Submitted by Jane Sproull Thomson Special to Black Press With the pandemic,… Continue reading

A 41-person air task force, including 12 members from 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron at 19 Wing Comox, seized more than $3 million CND worth of cocaine as part of Op Caribbe. Photo by Canadian Armed Forces Operations/Facebook
19 Wing Comox crew involved in three-tonne cocaine seizure worth more than $293 million

12 members from 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron involved in Op Caribbe

File photo of Gord Johns during World Oceans Day.
Courtenay-Alberni MP outlines priorities for federal budget

Universal pharmacare, affordable housing and Pacific wild salmon are some of the… Continue reading

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations in Gold River area

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

Volunteers sort through bottles and cans during Saturday's fundraiser for hospice. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Comox Valley hospice holds drive-through bottle drive

Bike team is fundraising for the annual Cycle of Life tour on Vancouver Island

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

NIC’s new president Lisa Domae assumed the role April 12. Domae has worked at NIC since 2000, most recently as executive vp academic and chief operating officer. Photo supplied
New North Island College president launches draft strategic plan

North Island College’s new president, Lisa Domae, kicked off her first official… Continue reading

Killer whales surface near Sebastion Beach in Lantzville on Sunday, April 11. (Photos courtesy Ella Smiley)
Chainsaw and friends near the beach thrill orca watchers in Lantzville

Jagged-finned orca named Chainsaw and 17 others spent hours off Sebastion Beach this weekend

Nootka Sound RCMP and DFO Conservation and Protection Officers seized this 30 foot vessel, fishing gear and equipment as well as Chinook salmon, salmon roe, rock fish and ling cod after an investigation on Sept. 11. A judge in Campbell River on February hit the owner and his accomplices with significant fines, a ban on holding fishing licences and loss of equpment, including the boat’s motor and trolling motor. RCMP photo
Washington State trio’s fisheries violations the worst veteran officer has seen in 20 years

Judge bans three men from fishing or holding a fishing licence anywhere in Canada

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

Most Read