Trail city council joined Rossland and other communities across the country in petitioning the federal government to declare the overdose crisis a national emergency.
A delegation that included Moms Stop the Harm representative Tammy McLean, Sheila Adcock from Career Development Services (CDS), Amber Streukens from AIDS Network Kootenay Outreach and Support Society (ANKORS), and Lisa Kavaloff from Rural Empowered Drug Users Network (REDUN) met with council over Zoom on May 10 to provide a powerful presentation on how the overdose crisis has affected every community.
The delegation asked the city to continue to work on a plan to create an overdose prevention site, address the homeless population in Trail, and listen to people who have experienced homelessness and addiction.
Since 2016, a tainted drug supply has seen the number in overdose deaths increase rapidly with the majority of opioid-toxicity deaths caused by fentanyl present in cocaine, ecstasy, and crystal meth.
In 2020 there were over 1,716 suspected overdoses, a 74 per cent increase from 2019, when 984 people died. In the Kootenay Boundary there were 20 deaths last year, however, in the first three months of 2021, there have already been eight opioid-toxicity deaths.
“COVID has definitely had an impact in that the drug supply is becoming increasingly toxic, and people are trying to isolate and not get COVID, and so we’re finding a lot more people are dying of opioid deaths,” said McLean.
The delegation offered a crash course to council in how and why addiction is triggered, and Kavaloff shared her own devastating experience with child welfare, substance abuse, homelessness and addiction.
For Kavaloff, a safe supply of drugs is required for users, along with low barrier housing providing harm reduction services.
Streukens presented an overview of the benefits of an overdose prevention site (OPS), which gives people a safe space to use drugs under the care of trained professionals who ensure the drugs are tested before use.
It also offers services such as counselling, substance use treatment referrals, and some health services. The underlying statistic is that there have been no deaths reported at OPS.
“In addition to preventing fatal overdose and connecting people who use drugs with supports and services,” said Streukens. “OPS can benefit the greater community in many ways, some of the clear advantages include reduced public drug use and improperly disposed supplies.
“But the more subtle advantages come from that wrap-around care that can be provided at OPS, it’s a safe non-judgemental space for people who use drugs, and therefore acts as a unique point of care and support and can be really stabilizing for folks who use the space and also the community at large.”
For Adcock, the service the La Nina shelter and CDS provides has been vital, but their resources are stretched. She hopes to keep the community informed and is intent on de-stigmatizing the perception communities hold toward their vulnerable populations.
Coun. Sandy Santori respectfully asked how council should respond to residents and businesses who deal daily with homeless people and those with mental illness, who vandalize their property, openly use drugs, and discard needles in public spaces?
“I understand that this is tremendously challenging and you have a lot of voices you have to balance and hear,” said Streukens. “There is a great need for anti-stigma work in Trail. There is a lot of language around choice and lifestyle, and my rights versus your rights.
“We need to draw this conversation back into the public health landscape, we can’t enforce our way out of it, and until we do some very strong community education, I’ll anticipate you will continue hearing things like this.”
The city has since sent letters urging the Government of Canada to declare the overdose crisis a national public health emergency so that it is taken seriously and funded appropriately.
It implored the provincial and federal governments “to immediately seek input from people most affected by this crisis and meet with provinces and territories to develop a comprehensive, pan-Canadian overdose action plan.”
That plan, would include “comprehensive supports and full consideration of reforms that other countries have used to significantly reduce drug-related fatalities and stigma, such as legal regulation of illicit drugs to ensure safe supply of pharmaceutical alternatives to toxic street drugs, and decriminalization for personal use.”