Illicit Drug Toxicity

In British Columbia, there were approximately1700 deaths in 2020 from illicit drug toxicity, according to the B.C. Coroner's service. There were approximately 1300 deaths in the same year from Covid-19, according to statistics compiled the BC Centre of Disease Control. And yet, the federal and provincial governments have deployed considerable resources to the Covid emergency, and next to nothing for the BC-declared emergency of illicit drug deaths, despite the fact that our esteemed provincial medical director, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has written a comprehensive report on the necessity of doing so.

The essential problem is a lack of political will, according to Kat Wahamaa of Moms Stop The Harm organization, which, as she explains, is categorically a crazy idea as this is a health and human rights issue, not a political one. No-one debated whether the Covid-19 epidemic needed an immediate and proportional response, she says, so why not a similar response to the drug problem...particularly when one considers that at this moment in time, 5 people die every day from illicit drug poisoning in this province, and consequently there are thousands of bereaved families which will deal with this trauma through generations. And it's not getting any better.

She speaks of her own son, who was lost at age 25 leaving two sons, who will feel the vacancy of their father through a lifetime and likely this pain will be transferred to the next generation and beyond. Addicts can't use willpower to overcome their addictions: it's a much deeper problem, as she explains, and this has been confirmed by studies. It is definitely not a moral problem.

Kat spoke to Susan Millar in the program, “Conversations with Susan Millar”, about the work that Moms Stop the Harm are doing to shift the conversation and to encourage governmental action at all levels. They do a lot of grassroots work, as well as working on a larger stage. They have support groups for people and families dealing with addiction of love ones and for families who are bereaved. They collaborate with other groups nationally and internationally to help amplify their message. Currently, their main push is for safe sites for drug users at the local level.

Her advice for people who use illicit drugs: Don't use alone. There is a lifeguard app available where a user can connect with someone who will check in on them when they decide to administer a drug to themselves while alone. For families dealing with someone with a drug problem; keep connected, is her advice. Tough love doesn't work and it's been proven that connection to the person with the addiction is very important. Many families have deep regrets that they used tough love, abandoning their family member with a drug problem, when their love and concern were most needed. It's a deep regret for many families who have lost a loved one.

Moms Stop The Harm want the nation to take on an evidence-based approach to dealing with addiction. I'm happy to report that the progressive local government of New Westminster is working as quickly as possible to set up a safe site in the city so that those dealing with substance use disorders can take their drugs while witnessed by health care workers and also to have their drugs tested. It is to open by March 30th on the premises of the Purpose Society. Last year, according to the BC Coroner, 35 residents of New Westminster died of poisonous illicit drugs. Let's hope this City's enlightened approach spreads to many more communities.

By: Susan Millar

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