Pubdate: Wed, 30 Aug 2017
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Times Colonist
Author: Sarah Petrescu
Page: A4


For the past several months, a group of frontline workers,
illicit-drug users and parents have met to discuss how they can better
inform the public on the one thing that unites them: The overdose crisis.

"It's such a diverse mix of people, but we've all been affected," said
Leslie McBain, a founding member of Moms Stop the Harm.

She lost her only son, Jordan Miller, to an opioid overdose in 2014.
She has helped support other parents and has become a respected
advocate at all levels of government.

Almost 2,000 people have died from illicit-drug deaths in B.C. since
2016, with more than 283 of those deaths on Vancouver Island. Despite
an emergency health crisis being called, a prolific dispersal of the
opioid antidote naloxone and dozens of overdose-prevention sites being
opened, the crisis is getting worse, according to monthly statistics
from the coroners service.

McBain was invited to be part of the organizing committee for
International Overdose Awareness Day in Victoria after being a guest
speaker last year. The event takes place in Centennial Square this
Thursday, with community naloxone training, speakers and a vigil.
Similar events are taking place in Nanaimo, Courtenay and Campbell

"With so much going on, AIDS Vancouver Island invited some of us doing
work at the community level to help. It really is grassroots groups
coming together," said McBain, who lives on Pender Island. The group
also includes members of the Society of Illicit Drug Users and No More
Drug War Victoria.

"It has been such a beautiful experience to work with this group,
especially the parents who are honouring their kids," said Heather
Hobbs, harm-reduction services manager at AVI. The organization has
had a huge response to community outreach, including a symposium in
May, naloxone training and information booths at festivals.

Hobbs said everyone in the group identifies stigma - the negative
judgment of people who use drugs or have addictions - as one of the
most harmful factors in the crisis.

"That judgment, shame and lack of feeling welcome prevents people from
seeking and accessing support. They become isolated. In a very
tangible way, this is a killer," said Hobbs, noting another element is
the toxic drug supply. Fentanyl is a powerful, cheap opioid now found
in the majority of illicit street drugs. Hobbs, and many other
frontline advocates, think decriminalizing and regulating the drugs
would curb demand for a toxic illicit supply and the number of
overdose deaths.

"There are too many people dying to not talk about this seriously,"
said Khalelay Bell from No More Drug War Victoria - a new group
composed of outreach workers, advocates and illicit-drug users who
were part of Yes2SCS, which spent years advocating for
supervised-consumption services. Victoria just had its first site
approved next to Our Place Society on Pandora Avenue and has four
overdose-prevention sites. There are eight in total on the Island.

"The war on drugs criminalizes and stigmatizes people instead of
helping and understanding them. Why are we moralizing a health issue?"
said Bell, citing Portugal as having success with a decriminalization
model. "This is not a difficult conversation. Asking a frontline
worker how many funerals of friends they've attended recently is."

Dana Tough is the Aboriginal harmreduction counsellor at AVI and also
a recovering drug user. He said it's important for the whole community
to come together in outreach.

"I really try to meet people where they are at. Even if it means
hiking into the bush to deliver harm-reduction supplies," said Tough,
noting outreach is especially important for Indigenous people - who
are five times more likely to overdose and three times more likely to
die from an overdose than the non-Indigenous population, according to
a recent report from the First Nations Health Authority.

"This is a societal issue. We are a drug-seeking culture, period. It
could be anyone in your life or your family who has an addiction. We
need a societal response," he said.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said she will spend Overdose Awareness Day
at an addictions-recovery facility in Nanaimo with other capital
region mayors.

"I can't think of a better way to spend the day than looking at ways
to support recovery options," Helps said.

Our Place Society has pitched a recovery centre for the former youth
jail in View Royal where it has operated a temporary shelter since

"I would really like to see funding of true recovery options that help
people deal with the pain of addiction, both physical and emotional,"
Helps said.

The City of Victoria declared Aug. 31 Overdose Awareness Day, and
other council members are expected to attend, she said.
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