The drug crisis in British Columbia has never been so dire.
But amidst the news of this year’s terrible death toll, released last week by the BC Coroners Service, there is also some reason for hope due to some new moves being made, some right here in the Cowichan Valley.
First, defining the scope of the problem. According to the Coroners Service, 1,534 people have died so far in 2021 due to overdose — and the year isn’t even over yet.
That’s a 24 per cent increase over the same time period in 2020, and nearly double the rate of 2016.
Behind the numbers is an incalculable loss of children, parents, brothers, sisters and friends.
It is not an easy problem to deal with, or an easy momentum to slow and reverse.
However, there are some promising steps being taken.
On Nov. 1 the province announced that it is applying to the federal government to remove criminal penalties for people who possess small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use. This is vital to addressing the problem, as it helps to move addiction from the sphere of law enforcement to the sphere of health, where most experts on the subject say it belongs.
As Sheila Malcolmson, provincial minister of Mental Health and Addictions said in the press release announcing the move, “Substance use and addiction is a public health issue, not a criminal one.”
B.C.’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe was blunt in her assessment of what system focused on punishment has meant in the fight against drug addiction: “Criminalizing members of our communities who use drugs has resulted in decades of causing further harms to many who are already suffering from mental or physical health challenges and/or the effects of emotional or physical trauma.”
And in the Cowichan Valley, the new Wellness and Recovery Centre finally opened its doors on York Road. It’s been a controversial facility, as people in the area, which has been one of the most hard-hit areas of Greater Duncan when it comes to homelessness and the ravages of drug use, opposed the location. Along with residents living in the area, parents of children who go to nearby schools staged protests.
Services there will include overdose prevention and other health care resources for those with mental health and addictions issues.
We sincerely hope that the centre will help to solve the problems that have run rampant over the neighbourhood, by getting people with problematic behaviours the help they need.