EDITORIAL: Time to treat overdose crisis like COVID-19 | Squamish Chief

EDITORIAL: Time to treat overdose crisis like COVID-19

We need to finally and collectively treat the overdose epidemic with the same urgency and fear we treat COVID-19.

This month, Squamish grads — that special 2020 pandemic cohort — walked across stages and posed for pictures as their families cheered and shed tears of pride.

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It is a scary time for grads, to be sure, but one they have been well prepared for by the teachers, families and the rough and tumble town that raised them.

Steffanie Lawrence didn’t walk across a stage or celebrate the end of school or wonder what the future would hold for her.

Her family was forced to mark what would have been, without her.

Lawrence died at 15 years old from fentanyl poisoning in January of 2018.

This year’s Howe Sound Secondary valedictorians touchingly remembered her in their speech.

How truly heartbreaking that the month before she would have graduated, B.C. marked the grim statistic of the highest number of illicit drug toxicity deaths ever recorded in a month.

Ever.

Recorded.

The pandemic — which has resulted in 170 deaths in this province since it began — has made this other health crisis worse.

In May, there were 170 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths or about 5.5 deaths per day in B.C.

This is a 93% increase over the number of deaths seen in May 2019 (88) and a 44% increase over the number of deaths in April 2020 (118), according to the B.C. Coroners service.

It is easy to get overwhelmed by numbers and to think of them merely as statistics, but every number is somebody’s ‘Steffanie.’

In this town, we have lost too many to this other health crisis.

While the provincial government has put in many measures to try and combat the rising tally of overdose deaths — and the secure care for teens after an overdose announced Tuesday is a step in the right direction, Lawrence’s mom says —  we still have a ways to go to address the many gaps in care.

The heroes with the Sea to Sky Community Action Team run the peer witnessing program at The Bridge to Housing project and provide public education and identify gaps in care that we must close in order to end this epidemic — such as the lack of medically-assisted detox in Squamish.

People seeking detox and treatment often have to wait days or even weeks for a bed in the city, according to CAT’s Rhea Thompson. “These wait times, combined with a lack of low-cost public transportation in the corridor, mean that people are missing windows of opportunity that may never open again,” she said.

The team also identified stigma toward drug users in emergency rooms and a lack of “truly affordable” housing in town as other gaps in care.

We have shown what we can do to keep people safe from COVID-19.

It is time to put the same determination toward this public health crisis, in honour of Lawrence and all those who came before and after her.

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