It is far too easy to pretend that the crisis of fentanyl, toxic drugs, and drug deaths is someone else’s problem.
But it’s everyone’s problem in British Columbia, and we’re all going to have to solve it together.
Tuesday, Aug. 31 was International Overdose Awareness Day, and in B.C. that day came along with news that 1,011 British Columbians had lost their lives to toxic drugs and overdoses in the first six months of the year.
It can be tempting for people with no history of drug use in their own lives, or in their families, to pretend that those who have died somehow deserved it.
But every one of those people who died came from somewhere. They had parents, friends, families. Many leave behind children, spouses, and colleagues.
That goes for those who were homeless, as well as those who worked full time.
It holds true for those who had been to rehab many times, as well as those who hid their drug use from even those close to them.
The reality of the situation can be seen in the gatherings that marked Overdose Awareness Day over the past week, including the one organized by Stop Overdose Ridge Meadows (STORM).
One thing we know for sure – society can’t win a war on drugs. When the pandemic closures of border crossings made smuggling more difficult, it actually made the crisis worse, as dealers added more fentanyl and other contaminants to their drugs.
The provincial government’s effort, announced earlier this year, to move towards a system called prescribed safe supply, is a good step in the right direction, but much more work has to be done.
The government’s wheels grind slowly, and in the meantime, local street outreach workers in Maple Ridge have gone so far as to hand out safe supply drugs themselves – they’ve had drugs tested to ensure they’re free of fentanyl, and then handed them out in local parks.
That may seem extreme – volunteers supplying heroin to addicts – but it’s an extreme response to an extreme situation.
Is it a solution? Not sure.
READ ALSO: Safe supply handed out in Maple Ridge park
One thing for sure, illicit drug use has to be seen as a medical and a social issue. Only then can society grapple with practical methods of dealing with the crisis, possibly including safer supply, supervised injection sites, and vastly expanded treatment options.
Compassion for users and a practical approach will hopefully mean that by this time next year, British Columbia isn’t losing so many citizens to a drug crisis.