LETTER: Opioid deaths a problem that won’t go away

We just won’t go away, damn it. One of our family or friends died and we keep making a noise about it. There’s groups of us banging pots and chanting outside the Blanshard Street Ministry of Health offices. We keep organizing information events at Centennial Square and holding symposia at church halls and writing endless letters-to-editors. And why? Because a friend or child or parent died from fentanyl poisoning and we don’t want that to happen to you. Because we know if we just go away there are other things that won’t disappear.

The tents in your parks won’t go away. They aren’t the cause of opioid deaths. Of the 170 people — your neighbours and mine — who died last month, 85 per cent of them died at home. It took five months of COVID-19 infections to kill that many, but the stigma around a safe drug supply meant that 144 of our citizens succumbed to unsafe contaminated street drugs.

The toll on frontline workers in health care will certainly not go away. We have a wonderful BC Ambulance and Ambulance Paramedics Service and we’re wearing these professionals out. They need a rest and most certainly a pay raise. They know better than any of us that not everyone survives a fentanyl poisoning and of those that they do resuscitate, some are left incurably damaged. We feel overwhelming grief at the death of one family member but these people on the front lines of rescue go through that experience many times and (thankfully) they never become indifferent to it.

The increase in your taxes won’t go away. We’ll need more of your money to rescue or try to rescue victims of opioid poisons. It will take twice the money in the criminal justice and emergency response budgets as it would in a regulated safe drug supply in our health care system. Dig deeper; indifference costs.

That cost will take more than dollars. When we turn away from “the least of these,” when we harden our hearts, there is a cost in eroded sensitivity, a civic callousness that will eventually touch all of us. Our care homes and even our hospitals will decline as some in the east have done already into merely “fiscally responsible” institutions where the language of budgetary restraint will replace the voices of compassion.

Jennifer and Leslie at Moms Stop the Harm (https://www.momsstoptheharm.com) are not going to go away, and they will continue to be a noisy intrusion in political discourse and civic advocacy. They’d like to find themselves redundant, but until then they will continue banging pots and staging demonstrations. We weren’t there when a loved one died. We’re here now and we’re not going away.

Derek Peach

Victoria

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