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Natural disasters in B.C., and the opiate epidemic

Letter to the Editor from Austin Hager
“There is a distinct border around community, that line is the line of marginalization,” writes Austin Hager.

The weather of the past six months has really started making me think about our community.

Between the fires over the summer to the flooding and landslides of last week, there have been some incredibly unfortunate people.

Losing a home, maybe a family member and needing to relocate; whether that be to a temporary shelter or having to find a new home once the storm has settled, must be a traumatizing experience.

However, the beauty of humanity shines after disasters such as these.

I’m not talking about the hoarding at the grocery stores and gas stations but seeing people on boats rescuing people.

Seeing people volunteer to fill and stack sandbags, people offering to open their home, people donating money to help those that have been imperiled from the natural disasters.

The essence of community, commonality, and empathy shines.

So why then is the opiate epidemic so different?

The parallels are everywhere, yet we take a foundationally different approach.

Some of the classic lines we hear are “it was their choice to do drugs” yet it was some peoples’ choice to live in the woods, or below sea level at the bottom of an old lake bed requiring a pump and a dike to keep the water out.

We don’t ostracize them when they fall on hard times.

“They should know the risks” just because someone knows the risks doesn’t mean they have the tools available to mitigate them.

If someone lives in a natural disaster zone it doesn’t mean they have the ability to move.

Work, family, money, heritage, a person’s entire history has led this to this point.

Just because we are witnessing the present situation doesn’t mean we know the context.

So, what is community?

Clearly not everyone resides within this abstract concept.

I think it’s hard to adequately answer the question without also thinking about marginalization, who are not welcome in the mainstream community.

The marginalization of opiate users is evident.

We do not offer the same support system to those effected by addiction that we do to natural disasters.

We do not see hundreds of volunteers rushing to help, we do not see the province declare a state of emergency to allow for a quicker response to the toxic drug supply.

What would B.C. look like if everyone effected by natural disasters in the past five years were treated the same as drug users?

There is a distinct border around community, that line is the line of marginalization.

The line deciding if your problem is worthy, if you are worthy of helping, if your input is worthy, and if your life is worthy of saving.

Clearly, those effected by the opiate epidemic are not part of our community.

The paradox is that the solution to the epidemic doesn’t require engineers to rebuild roads through mountains, nor should this be a partisan stance.

What political party would say we shouldn’t be helping those effected by flooding or fires?

We just need to treat those effected by addiction the same way we treat those effected by natural disasters.

Ask what they need.

This simple step is lost in translation through the bureaucracy.

How can we help someone if we don’t know what they need?

The people of Princeton stated a need for clean drinking water, opiate users stated a need clean drugs.

Everyone in B.C. deserves the same level of compassion, care, and empathy, so how about we start doing it.

Thank you,

Austin Hager