Unintentional drug overdoses have become a public health crisis in Canada, and their impact can reach even into communities like Lake Cowichan, Mayor Ross Forrest told council colleagues in his monthly report.
“Although the rates of overdoses vary across the country, no region has been spared and communities should be bracing for the worst. Targeted approaches for this crisis include dealing with HIV, hepatitis C, homelessness, mental illnesses, sex work, illness, and drug use,” he said.
“People use drugs to self-medicate. They do not take drugs to become abused, sick, homeless, stigmatized, isolated, or criminalized. Society’s view on drugs [must change] from that of deviant, illegal activity to chronic and mental disorder.
“At the core of the current crisis is a drug supply that has become contaminated with synthetic opiods mainly in the form of fentanyl and carfentanil. Every community has periodically experienced increased numbers in overdose deaths through transient changes in drug supply. It appears that these highly toxic drugs are here for the foreseeable future,” he said.
There are no simple answers because the problem is demand-driven, according to Forrest.
“Simply warning people to avoid fentanyl or the plethora of new synthetic analogs is both naive and ineffective. Statistics show that thousands of people in the province are at risk of overdosing. Dealing with drug overdoses is very intense for emergency services.
“The BC Overdose Action Plan has 10 steps: tell people about the services available, offer safer drugs, devise pain management therapies, bring in supervised consumption sites, addiction treatment, harm reduction is first step to recovery, align law enforcement with public health, reform drug laws, offer support services, educate to remove stigma, and do more research,” he said.
And finally, Forrest said, the greatest impact on communities may be hidden.
“White collar users can hide that they have a problem at home, without anyone knowing about their problem. People’s views are changing to where 75 per cent of people in B.C. support safe injection sites.”