Lisa Lapointe: In an overdose crisis, scare tactics are less effective than meaningful discussion

published on December 2, 2017 by Lisa Lapointe in The Georgia Straight

The illicit drug overdose crisis has taken over 2,000 lives in British Columbia since January 2016, and the province is likely to surpass the 1,500 mark for deaths in 2017 alone.

Too many valued lives are being lost, and that’s why the BC Coroners Service is working collaboratively with a number of partners across the province and the country to find meaningful ways to reduce the tragic number of deaths in our communities.

Recent media coverage has indicated that a B.C. funeral-services company has developed a public-awareness campaign to highlight the danger of opioids, targeting youth and teens, with an event planned to include a “more visceral, emotional experience”. The coverage indicated that coroners would be participating.

While we acknowledge the importance of public education and awareness, the BC Coroners Service does not endorse, and will not be participating in, fear-based initiatives.

Evidence suggests that the reasons for drug use are complex and multifaceted, and programs focused on scaring people from using drugs, are not effective in saving lives. Additionally, they tend to increase the stigma surrounding drug use and actually discourage people from seeking help – an obsolete approach that has led to the loss of countless lives.

The BC Centre on Substance Use recently provided some research on universal substance use prevention, pulling together a number of different academic studies. Among key findings was that mass media campaigns and public service announcements showed no evidence of effectiveness while interactive, skills-based approaches showed positive results, with targeted approaches being especially effective. This is why timely, accurate data from coroners’ investigations is so important; allowing our health partners to inform evidence-based initiatives. With data showing that most of those dying from overdoses are using alone, health authorities and service providers can innovate targeted strategies aimed at saving lives.

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