BY DARLENE GAGE
Our community has lost two very young women to tainted drugs in the past weeks. A loss felt deeply by the many who knew and loved them.
These are not isolated incidents, but rather part of a growing trend on Salt Spring and elsewhere that is dooming those who suffer from addictions to a death sentence.
Where Salt Spring is lagging behind other communities is in our almost utter lack of response to this growing threat, and it’s time that we turned our attention to this and learned how to deal with it. Just continuing to believe that we are a small, rural community that does not have “city” problems is ignoring the signals all around us that the world is getting more and more unequal and many more people are falling through the cracks in our systems.
If we listen to those who use non-prescription drugs on Salt Spring, and look at the examples of communities who have seen success in their responses, here is what we know helps:
Ensuring a safer supply of drugs by cracking down on known “bad” dealers. Folks here know exactly who those people are, so let’s listen to them and ask our local RCMP detachment to act.
Providing fentanyl tests and naloxone kits free of charge to whoever asks for them. Lots of folks won’t go into a pharmacy or hospital, but they will go to friends. We’ve provided Covid vaccines to whoever wants them, and way more people are dying of tainted drugs and overdoses in B.C. than of Covid. Why are we not responding accordingly?
The local Mental Wellness Initiative organized by the Salt Spring Health Advancement Network saw hundreds of islanders gathering over a period of months to begin to figure out the best ways we as a community can support mental wellness for everyone. What was the number-one thing to come out of those consultations? The need for peer support and peer volunteer counselling initiatives. This would see new and previously trained volunteers being available to help friends and neighbours deal with mental health issues and crisis response, and could include basic safe drug supply response for those able to do so. Our current professional counselling services are not sufficient to meet the growing needs. People often wait many months to see someone and are lucky to get a few sessions. Folks in crisis can’t wait. Peer support and volunteer counselling could be a real response to a real problem.
The last thing I’ll mention here is the need for a safe, warm and consistent place for people to gather during the day – in particular those who don’t have secure housing. We’ve talked about it for years, and a few attempts have been made to find a suitable spot. It’s called “harm reduction” – and it starts with reducing the health and social harms that comes from addiction.
Without a place to be, people will continue to suffer and die in isolation and despair. We all know that it is community and connection that help all of us get through our rough patches. Where is that place of connection here on Salt Spring, besides in the cold, rainy parks?
I realize that this issue is a complex one, with no simple solutions. But there are strong lessons we can learn from other communities and from those who are living with addiction right here. I am calling on this wonderful community to listen, to learn and to act.
Viewpoint: Drug deaths – time to act
BY DARLENE GAGE