I was recently looking at the website of Moms Stop the Harm, a local advocacy group that is heavily involved in organizing Overdose Awareness Day events. I was reflecting on the last few years; the increasing drug toxicity deaths we’re seeing, the tremendous challenges first responders and care providers face, and the loss communities continue to experience.
The photo tribute page on their website is heart-breaking. Row upon row of faces, most young men around the same age as my own son. Each person loved and dearly missed, gone too soon due to drug poisoning.
International Overdose Awareness Day is held each year on August 31 to raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with substance use and drug-related death. It is an important day to recognize the loss and grief felt by so many people around the world and here at home.
This opportunity to build awareness is more important than ever. According to the latest report from the BC Coroner’s Service within Interior Health during the first five months of 2022 alone there were 149 drug toxicity deaths. The rising numbers correspond to an increasingly poisonous street drug supply. The presence of fentanyl is now commonplace and made even more dangerous with the addition of tranquilizers and other complicating substances.
It is hard to be hopeful in these circumstances, but I have also seen tremendous system improvements. We often talk about “building the plane as we fly it” and this emergency has us doing just that, balancing crisis response with prevention and innovation as we strive to provide enhanced substance use services to all people in Interior Health.
This is not the same crisis we faced when the Provincial Health Officer proclaimed the overdose public health emergency in 2016. The toxic drug crisis is not static - it keeps changing. We must keep pace. In the last two years in particular we have seen record investments in substance use services, including both bed-based inpatient and community-based outpatient options.
Prescribed safe supply has been introduced in Kelowna, Vernon, Kamloops, and Penticton, and we’re working closely with partners to expand to other communities as quickly as possible.
Drug testing is available at 72 locations across our region, and continues to grow.
Life-saving overdose prevention and supervised consumption services continue to play an important role in not only keeping people alive, but connecting them to support and treatment.
Within Interior Health our substance use and harm reduction teams are increasingly joined by “peers” – people with lived and living experience who provide guidance in program planning and implementation. I thank them for sharing their wisdom.
This August 31 you can show your support by wearing a purple wristband, attending an event, lighting a candle, or sharing information on social media.
Most of all we need to rethink substance use, which is a heavily stigmatized health condition, and focus on working together towards a solution.
To learn more about the overdose public health emergency, including prevention tips, visit the Toxic Drug Crisis webpage.
Learn more about International Overdose Awareness Day and view a list of community events.
Susan Brown, President & CEO, Interior Health