We’re supposed to be merry and bright as we approach the holidays and the new year. This year, there are many reasons to be less cheerful and festive.
We’ve managed to make it through floods, fires and heat domes, but the pandemic persists with the Omicron mutation, inflation threatens our economy and the big, ugly elephant that has moved into the middle of our living rooms appears to have settled in for the long haul.
That elephant is the ongoing tragedy of opioid-related deaths.
More than six people are losing their lives in drug-related deaths in B.C. every day. For most days, this number surpasses the losses from COVID-19.
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In the 10 months to the end of October, 1,782 people in B.C. died from drug toxicity. That’s higher than in any previous year. Observers expect the number of such deaths to exceed 2,000 before the year’s end. Since the beginning of the pandemic about two years ago, 2,393 people in B.C. have lost their lives due to COVID-related causes. Opioid deaths are almost double the rate of lives lost due to the pandemic.
This sad situation used to be referred to as an overdose crisis. Those poor addicts were thought to not be able to determine how much their bodies could take, took too much and died.
That’s not the case. It’s not the quantity of the drug that’s lethal. It’s the quality of the drugs involved. Street drugs have been poisoned by the addition of fentanyl and other toxic substances. That toxicity is doing the killing.
The long-term solution to this problem is readily-available, effective treatment for addicts. But the treatments we have now aren’t always effective and are always in very short supply relative to the need. Since drug users will keep on using, a more immediate route to saving lives is to ensure the drugs are clean and safe.
Fair Price Pharma Inc. (FPP) is a not-for-profit company founded and run by two British Columbia doctors. Dr. Perry Kendall, a former provincial health officer, and Dr. Martin Schechter have led extensive research on the effective use of diacetylmorphine and related substances. Both doctors are members of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia, and both are members of the Order of British Columbia.
FPP has imported, with federal approval, 15 kg of diacetylmorphine from a legal source in Europe; enough for thousands of doses. This form of heroin has never been known to cause death among users.
This supply of clean and safe drugs is sitting unused in B.C. as drug users continue to die every day from unsafe supplies because the B.C. government has not yet allowed or supported its distribution, claiming that control systems and delivery mechanisms aren’t in place to handle it. Many doctors and others who deal with the opioid crisis and its victims on the ground claim otherwise and are eager and ready to make clean heroin available before too many more lives are lost.
The pandemic has demonstrated that governments can handle complex and dangerous medical situations, especially when lives are at stake. However, the COVID pandemic and the opioid crisis have been treated very differently. From the beginning of the pandemic it was all hands on deck, pull out all the stops, report to the public daily and deal with it.
The opioid crisis has been recognized as lethal and dangerous for years. Governments have acknowledged this in speeches and reports, declaring ‘war’ on the situation. Naloxone has become more widely available to counteract overdoses and small pilot programs have been implemented. But the high and rising death tolls clearly indicate that what has been done is too little and too late.
A potential solution to this ongoing carnage exists. It’s up to governments to act upon it with the same dispatch they’ve used to minimize COVID-related deaths.
Every life matters.
Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker. For interview requests, click here.
The opinions expressed by our columnists and contributors are theirs alone and do not inherently or expressly reflect the views of our publication.
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