Viewpoint: qathet region nurses speak out on toxic drug crisis


“As a community, we continue to treat people diagnosed with substance use disorders differently than people who have other critical life-threatening health conditions, by not addressing their essential medical and social needs.” ~ Kate Hodgson and Ellery Cleveland

In British Columbia, more people die from toxic drug overdoses than homicides, car accidents, suicides and COVID-19 combined.

The Qathet region has been particularly hard hit by the poison drug crisis. Between January and April 2022, the per capita rate of fatal drug overdoses was more than twice that of the entire Vancouver Coastal Health region. Powell River is consistently ranked among the top 5 local health areas in BC with the highest rates of drug-related deaths in the population.

The current supply of illicit drugs contaminated with fentanyl puts all people who have access to illicit substances at risk of death. People who have access to this toxic illicit drug supply also face disproportionate systemic barriers that make access to regular or universal healthcare nearly impossible, not to mention the shame, judgment, and stigma people face when they seek help and treatment for drug use.

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Substance use is a complex phenomenon that is highly influenced by sociostructural factors, including income, housing, education, prior individual and family history of substance use, childhood and adult experiences of trauma, and levels of accessibility to substance use treatment and basic health care.

Since the beginning of the toxic drug, the public health emergency, health resources specifically for people who use drugs in the Qathet region have grown immensely. However, nurses, outreach workers, harm reduction workers and primary care providers are overwhelmed by the increasing demand and need for services to treat complex drug use and mental health problems.

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For decades, there has been a lack of evidence-based addiction treatment programs and resources. As a community, we continue to treat people diagnosed with substance use disorders differently than people who have other critical life-threatening health conditions, by not addressing their essential medical and social needs.

The recent announcement by Provincial Minister of Mental Health and Addiction, Sheila Malcolmson, of funding for complex nursing homes for Qathet is an evidence-based proposal that will bring relief to people suffering from complex substance use and mental health issues and will provide the nurses and healthcare providers who are struggling , to meet the needs of the frontline people with the necessary resources.

Although solutions to the social problems related to the effects of substance use conditions are diverse and still in their infancy, the way forward must be based on science and the best national and international teachings. Successful programs provide people with stable housing, access to safe drug supplies, and integrate harm reduction resources with community organizations and health services.

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People are dying from the complex interplay of toxic illicit drug supplies, unsustainable living conditions, poverty, oppression, neglect and social isolation caused by the effects of stigmatization of some members of the wider community. From the heart of harm reduction nurses in Qathet, we ask for tolerance and support for the tangible resources so desperately needed to address the tragic and unrelenting drug crisis.

Kate Hodgson and Ellery Cleveland are registered nurses.





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