Judy Darcy wants people to recognize the fact that those suffering with drug addictions and mental health issues are “everyone’s family” and society has a part to play to help them.
Darcy, B.C.’s new Minister of Mental Health and Addiction Services in the fledgling ministry, was in the Cowichan Valley on Aug. 28 as part of a provincial tour.
She said she met with local municipal officials as part of her tour and discussed plans to establish a temporary overdose prevention site in the Valley, which has seen up to 20 deaths due to drug overdoses since 2012.
Under the drug emergency that was called last year, Island Health has the authority to establish overdose prevention sites anywhere they feel they are needed, regardless of the views of local governments and the public.
There are currently six of the sites on the Island that are intended to work with the drug users in an attempt to keep them from overdosing, and also to try to wean them from the drugs and turn their lives around.
Island Health has said it intends to establish a site in the Valley this summer, but finding a location that suits everyone is proving problematic.
“I emphasized (to municipal officials) that people are crying out for these services, and our job is to take the lead in this crisis and build a support system for these people that reflects the importance it deserves,” Darcy said.
“But we need to save lives before these people can begin long-term treatment for their issues. It’s a fact that nobody has ever died in an overdose prevention site.”
But, Darcy said, people suffering from mental health and addiction issues have to face society’s stereotypes of how they became the way they are.
She said the vast majority of those she has spoken to over the years who face these issues point out that they often begin with pain medications from injuries sustained at work, which led to a downward spiral in their lives.
“These people come across the spectrum, and include construction workers, loggers and professional people, as well as recreational drug users,” Darcy said. “They are everyone’s family, in fact one of five families in B.C. face addiction and/or mental health issues, and we’re developing an action plan that we intend to introduce this fall to try to help them.”
Darcy said she heard some “powerful stories” during her visit to the Valley and concerns about the lack of programs and facilities in the area to help deal with the issues.
But she commended Warmland House and the Cowichan Tribes Health Centre for their “incredible work”.
She said both institutions have had great successes in turning lives around and connecting people to other services to help through their problems and issues.
“For people to get on the path to health and wellness, they need proper housing, employment and other supports to change from hopelessness to hope,” she said.
“The Cowichan Tribes faced many suicides among the youth a number of years ago that was so bad that a public health emergency was declared, and the First Nation has done great work since then to support their youth through after school and other programs.”
But Darcy said issues among First Nations go back many generations and many of them are connected to the trauma that resulted from the residential schools.
“There’s no doubt there are still big gaps in the system, and we’re exploring ways to best deal with them,” she said.