EDITORIAL: Overdose awareness day illustrates public health crisis

With too many drug overdoses and deaths, best way still to reduce risk is abstinence

Marking an International Overdose Awareness Day, as was done in Victoria with a ceremony and vigil in Centennial Square on Aug. 31, might seem moot, as few are unaware of the devastation and sadness caused in recent years by the use of drugs.

But this day not only brought light to the worst human health crisis in B.C. since the AIDS epidemic, it memorialized those who have died seeking an escape from the pain of life through ingesting drugs.

And that may be the best way to lessen the impact and reach of deadly substances such as fentanyl and carfentanil. By making very public the human stories of those who have lost their lives, and the grieving family and friends they left behind, others who would travel the same path might make different choices.

In her new role as B.C. Minister for Mental Health and Addictions, Judy Darcy has visited front line service providers and spoken to clients. Reflecting on Overdose Awareness Day, she wrote of being struck by how this crisis has seen people die from all walks of life: all ages, professions, education and income levels. And how the stigma around drug use drives people into dangerous patterns.

“[That] fear of judgment and shame can keep people in the cycle of addiction and prevent them from seeking help to improve their lives,” she wrote. “It drives people to use drugs alone, which can come at a terrible price.The majority of people who are dying from overdose are dying alone at home.”

Those who spoke in the square Thursday had messages of hope, but also implored people to treat others with compassion, especially if it’s apparent they are struggling somehow.

It’s a huge risk to admit the extent of one’s problem and ask for help. Supporting our friends or family members, rather than chastising them or even ignoring the problem, is a better way to reduce this crisis. The chances of people healing from addiction or mental health challenges on their own are slim to none.

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