On the frontlines of the opioid crisis

published on January 3, 2018 by Leslie Campbell in FOCUS ON VICTORIA

Leslie McBain advocates for those struggling with addictions and the families who love them.

THE FIRST NINE MONTHS OF 2017 saw more than 1,100 British Columbians die due to a suspected illicit drug overdose. In 2016—another depressingly bad year—there were 981 deaths. In fact, BC is leading the country in such deaths. The whole of Vancouver Island, along with some Lower Mainland areas, have the highest rates of death from illicit drugs in BC.

So it was welcome news in December that the new BC government has a plan. It will establish an Overdose Emergency Response Centre in Vancouver with dedicated, expert staff working with five regional response teams (starting in January) to co-ordinate and strengthen addiction and overdose prevention programs. Provincial Health Officer Dr Perry Kendall was pleased, pointing out that, up until recently, the crisis had been handled mostly by people working “off the side of their desks.” In all, $322 million in new funding was committed.

Fentanyl is the main cause of the spike in deaths related to illicit drug use. It was involved in 83 percent of deaths in 2017, often combined with drugs like heroin, cocaine or methamphetamines. And now there are deadly variations like carfentanil and cyclopopyl fentanyl being detected. Keeping up to date on the evolving realities of the opioids in circulation will be one of the main tasks of the new provincial centre.

One of the most effective groups lobbying all levels of government for action on the opioid crisis is Moms Stop The Harm, formed by three Canadian women who have lost children to a drug overdose. Besides offering support and resources for families affected by addiction, these women and their now 300 members have developed into a highly knowledgeable and professional all-volunteer organization. They have fought for free access to the overdose-reversal drug Naloxone, the implementation of supervised consumption services and needle exchange programs, and accurate health data that is public and shared in a timely manner. Rather than the failed “war on drugs” or “just say no” approach, the organization urges good-quality education as the best protection.

View the full article