The PNW is currently going through a major epidemic. For the past several years, opioid related deaths have been skyrocketing across the region as our backyard continues to be the hardest hit in a crisis that is affecting both Canada and the US.
It’s been so bad in Canada, that over 6,900 people have lost their lives in just two years, 2,946 in 2016, and a staggering estimation of over 4,000 in 2017 (official reports covering the fourth quarter are not yet available). Vancouver is widely considered to be at the centre of the epidemic, while British Columbia remains the hardest hit area in the country by far. 2017 saw a record number of opioid related deaths in the province during the first three quarters alone with 901 documented cases. A number surpassing 2016’s record by almost 250, with an astonishing estimation of 1,138 people losing their lives by the year’s end. Preliminary results show fentanyl and its analogues were involved in 72% of the cases – a 17% increase from 2016.
Clearly, the methods currently in place for dealing with this problem are ineffective and coming at a great cost. Thankfully, harm reduction organizations such as BC’s Karmik, and safe injection sites like Vancouver’s Insite, are doing fantastic work. In fact, there has yet to be a recorded death at a supervised consumption site, but they can only help a person if they walk through the doors. Unfortunately, the social stigma attached with illicit drug use forces many people to use behind closed doors, and quite often alone or with people unable to help. Stats show 83.8% of all drug overdose deaths in BC during 2017 happened in some form of residence, which likely won’t go down without some drastic changes.
So what can we, as a community, do to help curb this problem? Well for starters, getting your hands on a naloxone kit and learning how to use it is a massive benefit to everyone around you. There’s no denying the music scene has drug use within it, but even if you don’t use opiates there’s still a chance they can show up in a batch. We all want to believe it’s not going to happen to us or anyone we know, but put yourself in the shoes of those that have lost people to this crisis. What if it was your friend/partner/family member lying on the ground? This community we find ourselves a part of is no exception. In fact, it’s one of the few communities that currently exist as a domestic example of harm reduction.
But, let’s pretend that was something we didn’t need to worry about. What if there were ways to legally obtain the drugs people are inevitably going to use? Could we reduce the social stigmas and eliminate the shame our society places on those that do use? Would it save lives? Could it help people? The Portugal model is one that has been studied extensively in recent years to help answer these questions, and with good reason – it’s producing results.
Could decriminalization of personal possession be the solution to the problem we face at home too? Members of the hardest hit communities seem to think so, and as more people become affected by this problem, more are willing to listen to other options.
The time has come for something to solve this issue, and you can help. If you live in Canada, click this link to sign the petition, which calls for the government of Canada to step in and take action. It identifies three specific calls to action that help flip the scales on this epidemic – declare a national public health emergency, decriminalize personal possession, and create a system to provide safe access to substances. It has to start somewhere, so why not right here? Why not right now?
What are your thoughts on the current situation we face in the PNW? Let us know by sharing your thoughts below or voicing your opinion on social media.