Following the lead of Prince George, Courtenay council agreed to advocate for solutions at a national level to help curb the toxic drug supply that is poisoning communities across Canada.
At the April 6 meeting, council approved a resolution from Melanie McCollum to request the federal government to declare the issue a national public health emergency.
“This continues to be an issue that’s only gotten worse,” McCollum said. “The province has taken some steps, although I think a lot more can be done.”
“There’s no doubt by all accounts, including by those in law enforcement, that the current drug policies have failed us, and have contributed to an unprecedented health emergency in this country,” Coun. Wendy Morin added. “This crisis has impacted all of us.”
By seeking input from people affected by the crisis, and by meeting with provinces and territories, the resolution proposes to develop a plan that includes consideration of legal reforms used in other countries to reduce drug-related fatalities and stigma. Reforms include legal regulation of illicit drugs, and decriminalization for personal use.
From McCollum’s understanding, only a handful of drug users have access to a safe supply.
Locally, Morin said 13 people died last year from a toxic drug supply. Including Campbell River and Port Alberni, she said there were 39 “preventable deaths” due to an illicit, toxic drug supply.
“These are not overdoses,” Morin said. “People have used substances throughout history, and we’ve never seen deaths from substances like now, and it is completely because of the toxicity in the illicit supply, and it’s not because people took too much…People who use substances are being blamed for their deaths because they’ve made a choice to use too much, and that’s not accurate.”
She noted that 28 B.C. municipalities have passed a similar resolution requesting Canada to develop a national plan to remove the criminality from this health issue, and to provide a safe supply of pharmaceutical alternatives to a deadly illicit supply.
“Like hundreds of people in our community, I too have loved ones who’ve struggled with addiction and mental health challenges,” Morin said. “I’ve watched healthy, talented, kind, contributing members of my family suffer immensely, and they face daily stigma, shame and hopelessness. So I question what the public response would be if we saw 39 deaths in our region from car crashes, workplace accidents or even suicide. There would be an outcry like no other, and people would be scrambling to find solutions.”
She said the time is now to send message to make the federal government listen and act.
“I know that I’m not alone in saying that I don’t want to attend one more funeral or memorial,” said Morin, who has attended about 16 funerals for young people in recent years. “I know there are many people like me in this community that are basically suffering in silence and they’re afraid to speak out because of the stigma. I believe this resolution could significantly impact our community for the better if we have other municipalities joining us.”
Mayor Bob Wells thanked Morin for her heartfelt comments and for sharing her experiences. Coun. Will Cole-Hamilton appreciates her continued advocacy in the community.
“What we need to do to save lives within the opioid crisis is quite simple, and it’s all rooted in a safe supply,” Cole-Hamilton said.
Coun. Manno Theos feels there are two other critical components to the issue: affordable treatment for people struggling, and stiffer penalties for drug traffickers.
Council approved a follow-up motion from Theos to meet with B.C. government ministers to discuss the challenges about the local toxic drug supply.