Why are so many people dying? What needs to happen to stop it?

Leslie McBain, September 14, 2017

It is difficult in this complex crisis to know which way to go first. But as Moms Stop The Harm (MSTH) has always stated, first, we need to save lives. We know that a dead drug user will never recover. And we know the solutions.

Why are people dying? Simple - it is the toxic black-market drug supply.

Why does that black market exist? Because of the money and because of bad drug policy that drives people into the black market.

How do we rid ourselves of the major part of the black market? Supply safe drugs to those with substance use disorder (people living with addiction).

How do we provide safe drugs in the face of a federal government that refuses to consider decriminalization and regulation? We look at the Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver as an example.

How do we encourage those with substance use disorder to go into effective and proven treatment? Provide multi path, low barrier, rapid access treatments combined with housing first strategies for those who are unstably housed. We must build the system and ensure that it works. Provide connection, empathy and humane treatment to those people addicted to drugs.

Sadly providing connection, conversation, and anti stigma community dialogue will have little impact on the death rates without the previous steps (safe supply and rapid low barrier access to effective treatment).

I know people will say, 'but we can only do what we can do”. True, but with courage, and passion, we can push the envelope. We must begin to think out of the box immediately. As the CAPUD (The Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs) says: #theytalkwedie. It is a slogan that comes to my mind every day.

Our actions must be guided by what is most important. First we have to stop the drug related deaths. We need to get naloxone on in the hand of every drug user, train people on the street, in bars, in educational institutions and every environment where people may be at risk in regular, widely advertised sessions in public places. Provide targeted intense messaging about not using alone, knowing about overdose and how to respond, and about the 911 emergency law. Saves lives and then look at housing and access to treatment.

Sorry to rant, but it is very frustrating to hear more talk, more research, more indirect, soft solutions to the overdose epidemic. In Canada more  than 2,816 people died of a drug overdose in 2016, almost 1000 in BC alone. We must put our energies where they will make an immediate impact. Only the government bodies can provide the infrastructure. It comes down to creative thinking, courage, and funding! But first and foremost, we must save the lives of everyone's children.

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