Canada needs a safe supply and we need it now
The opioid crisis, tainted drugs, and complacency
Young Canadians, sick Canadians, homeless Canadians, Canadians are dying due to tainted drugs, and we are letting it happen. We are complacently sitting back, watching an epidemic like never before unfold, and we are willingly turning our backs to it.
And why? Because of stigma.
People who take drugs, especially opioids, are seldom viewed kindly in the eyes of the public. Common stereotypes surrounding drug users are that they’re lazy, jobless, useless, unmotivated individuals who contribute nothing to society. So, why should we care if they’re dying? Why should we care if their addictions are killing them?
Because this imaginary “them” doesn’t exist. It’s killing us. It’s killing you and it’s killing me. It’s killing families, neighbours, friends, teachers, students. It’s killing those all around and near us, and our political leaders don’t care.
In the 2019 federal election campaign, only the Green Party and The New Democratic Party (NDP) even mentioned the opioid crisis, let alone made vocal desires in wanting to do something about it. Both parties were going to declare a national health emergency over the opioid crisis, and the NDP stated they wanted to launch an investigation into how drug companies – like Johnson & Johnson who are in the middle of an opioid-related legal battle right now – fuel the opioid epidemic. The investigation would be to determine if criminal charges or legal action can be taken against them here in Canada.
The Liberal Party, Conservative Party, and People’s Party of Canada all remained silent on the epidemic.
We’re witnessing a medical emergency and the people we have placed in power are blatantly ignoring it.
There. I said it. I said the very thing that our fellow politicians widely refused to touch on in their 2019 election cycle. Because apparently, very few political leaders see the vast amounts of Canadians, especially young Canadians, dying as a matter of pressing focus and the solution is simple.
Canada need a safe supply, Canada needs safe injection sites, and Canada needs harm reduction, because these have proven to work.
Harm reduction, defined by the Harm Reduction Coalition, is “a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use.” Essentially, harm reduction is the strategy of lessening the danger and stigma surrounding an activity – in this case, drug use – in the hopes that reducing the threat and legalities surrounding the activity will lead to less societal consequences in the long run. In the case of drugs, that often means homelessness, poverty, crime, violence, and illness to name a few.
According to North Carolina Health News, 1980s Switzerland had an immense heroin problem. How they solved it was simple: harm reduction programs and safe supply sites. Because of this, “the nation cut its drug overdose deaths significantly. HIV and Hepatitis C infection rates dropped. And crime rates also dropped.”
Moreover, they realized that simply providing users with a safe injection site wasn’t enough. So, Switzerland developed a “four pillars” drug policy: “harm reduction, treatment, prevention and repression (or law enforcement).” In the past two decades since the drug policy had been put into place, “the number of opioid-related deaths in Switzerland has decreased by 64 per cent.”
The answer is right in front of us. By providing drug users with safe injection sites is not only the most logical solution, it is the most effective one.
We are complicit in this emergency because we’re ignoring people who are blatantly screaming for help. And we’re ignoring them.
More than 12,800 people have died due to opioid-related deaths between January 2016 and March 2019 according to Stats Canada. 3,023 of these deaths were in 2016. 4,120 were in 2017. 4,588 occurred in 2018, which equals out to “1 life [. . .] lost every 2 hours related to opioids.”
And, between January and March 2019 alone, 1,082 deaths occurred. One of them was my younger sister.
This is an epidemic. This is a national health emergency. Our friends, and kids, and neighbours, and classmates, and teachers. When is enough enough?
Because apparently, according to the government, these numbers aren’t enough. The 4,588 deaths in 2019 weren’t enough. My younger sister wasn’t enough.
And I’ve had it.