The overdose crisis: Calls for decriminalization and more

Though there are clearly no easy answers, KTW reached out to a number of people with expertise in the subject to ask what they think can be done to help save lives.

The overdose crisis in B.C. is rapidly spiralling out of control, with many wondering what can be done to reduce the number of deaths.

Another 147 people died from overdoses in August, bringing the total number for the first eight months of 2020 to 1,068, which is more than the number of people —983 — who died in B.C. in all of 2019.

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Since a public health emergency was declared in April 2016, more than 7,000 people have died of overdoses and the monthly counts continue to soar during the pandemic.

Though there are clearly no easy answers, KTW reached out to a number of people with expertise in the subject to ask what they think can be done to help save lives.

Among those KTW contacted, decriminalization was cited repeatedly as something to consider.

ASK Wellness Centre executive director Bob Hughes.

Alfred Achoba, manager of operations for the Kamloops chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association, pointed to decriminalization and a safer supply of pharmaceutical drugs as being two factors to consider.

Achoba also believes social and enforcement agencies need to find ways to intervene and protect those who are being taken advantage of by others.

“We need to see a stronger and tougher response to people when they are caught distributing toxic drugs,” he said. “There needs to be more severe consequences for that and I think we also need to acknowledge that drug use is now driven by the demand for people to self-medicate because of trauma.”

Sandra Tully, who is a local member of the Moms Stop The Harm — a network of Canadian families impacted by substance use-related deaths and other harm — also believes decriminalization and access to a safe supply is important.

Tully lost son Ryan to an overdose in 2016.

She pointed to a safe supply pilot project in Kamloops with about 40 participants as a step in a right direction.

“There’s so many more that need assistance and help,” she said.

Dr. Rob Baker
Dr. Rob Baker.

Dr. Rob Baker also thinks decriminalization is an important step toward reducing the number of overdose deaths in B.C.

“People are not addicted because they choose to be,” he said. “It sneaks up on people one little bit at a time and, by the time you realize what’s going on, it’s far too late.”

Baker, who is medical director at Sage Health Centre, added that people need better access to treatment, including having it covered as a medical expense.

“We need them to be covered like heart attacks, appendicitis and depression are,” he said.

Bob Hughes, executive director of the ASK Wellness Society social agency, thinks the entire issue of addiction has fallen into the great abyss.

Hughes also supports the idea of a safe prescribed opiates supply as part of a treatment plan.

“Addictions has to be something that, if it involves crime and social disorder, there needs to be expectations for people to stick to their medication and follow through with treatment,” he said.

Mario Borba, managing director of The Mustard Seed Kamloops social agency, would like to see better security on the streets of Kamloops to reduce trespassing and loitering, but he would also like to see those security officers perform wellness checks on members of the community who are at risk.

“Here at The Mustard Seed, we have been trying to get grants to implement this as a micro social enterprise and pay these individuals salaries, yet raising the funds for this is more challenging than we expected,” he said.

In B.C., there were 78 overdose deaths in January, 73 in February, 113 in March, 120 in April, 180 in May, 181 in June, 176 in July and 147 in August. Kamloops has recorded 36 overdose deaths through August, which is 10 more deaths than which occurred in all of 2019.

© Kamloops This Week



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