Drug ed­u­ca­tion, re­hab needed

The Prince George Citizen - - Opinion - MARIO CANSECO Glacier Me­dia

The use of pre­scrip­tion and non-pre­scrip­tion opi­oid drugs ceased to be only an ur­ban prob­lem in Bri­tish Columbia a few years ago. Re­ports of deaths from drug use have mul­ti­plied across the en­tire prov­ince, and the dire state of af­fairs is also ev­i­dent in other ju­ris­dic­tions in North Amer­ica.

In a re­cent Re­search Co. sur­vey, al­most two-thirds of Bri­tish Columbians (64 per cent) de­scribe the sit­u­a­tion re­lated to opi­oid drugs in their com­mu­nity as “a ma­jor prob­lem.” Siz­able ma­jori­ties of res­i­dents in ev­ery re­gion of the prov­ince feel this way, from a low of 56 per cent in the Okana­gan to a high of 75 per cent in the Fraser Val­ley. Gone are the days when we could la­bel opi­oid drugs as a hin­drance that af­fected only cer­tain peo­ple in spe­cific areas.

Last March, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau pledged to tackle the opi­oid prob­lem and de­scribed it as an is­sue that is “at the top of our pre­oc­cu­pa­tions” within the con­text of a pub­lic health cri­sis. Across Bri­tish Columbia, 37 per cent of res­i­dents think Trudeau has been “good” in com­ing up with so­lu­tions to deal with the use of pre­scrip­tion and non­pre­scrip­tion opi­oid drugs, while 42 per cent con­sider his ac­tions as “bad.”

In July, B.C. Premier John Hor­gan vowed to do more to deal with the sit­u­a­tion af­ter 130 opi­oid over­doses were re­ported in a sin­gle day. The ver­dict from the pub­lic is a bit more nu­anced for Hor­gan, with 31 per cent of res­i­dents rat­ing his ac­tions on this file pos­i­tively and 30 per cent rat­ing them neg­a­tively.

While Bri­tish Columbians ap­pear be­fud­dled by the per­for­mance of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, there is noth­ing but clar­ity when it comes to the types of so­lu­tions they would like to see im­ple­mented to deal with the use of pre­scrip­tion and non-pre­scrip­tion opi­oid drugs.

The most pop­u­lar idea to deal with the prob­lem at hand, sup­ported by 90 per cent of Bri­tish Columbians, is launch­ing more ed­u­ca­tion and aware­ness cam­paigns about drug use.

Over the past few months, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has pro­duced sev­eral 30-sec­ond spots that delve into is­sues such as pre­scrip­tions, stigma and how to help a per­son who is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an over­dose. There is noth­ing in par­tic­u­lar about dis­cussing drug use with mi­nors, and – aside from a de­scrip­tion of what fen­tanyl is – very lit­tle about other opi­oids that can be ob­tained il­le­gally.

An­other no­tion that is well re­garded by Bri­tish Columbians is the cre­ation of more spa­ces for drug re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, which is sup­ported by 88 per cent of res­i­dents. In Septem­ber, the fed­eral and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments an­nounced a $71.7 mil­lion in­vest­ment in what was de­scribed as “in­no­va­tive treat­ment op­tions for peo­ple with sub­stance abuse dis­or­ders.” We will have to wait to see if this in­vest­ment ac­tu­ally leads to a re­duc­tion in drug use and abuse.

Two other ideas are also sup­ported by ma­jori­ties of res­i­dents.

Al­most four in five Bri­tish Columbians (78 per cent) be­lieve it is time to re­duce the pre­scrip­tions of opi­oids by med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als, and two-thirds (66 per cent) would like to set up more “harm re­duc­tion” strate­gies, such as le­gal su­per­vised in­jec­tion sites.

The most con­tentious con­cept is the de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion of all drugs for per­sonal use. Half of Bri­tish Columbians (50 per cent) voice op­po­si­tion to this course of ac­tion, while 45 per cent are sup­port­ive. As ex­pected, the idea is best re­garded in Metro Van­cou­ver, where some gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials have ad­vo­cated blan­ket de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion for years.

In Au­gust, the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment launched a law­suit against drug man­u­fac­tur­ers and re­tail­ers in an ef­fort to re­cover pub­lic-health costs as­so­ci­ated with an in­crease in the use of opi­oids. An over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of Bri­tish Columbians (72 per cent) agree with this de­ci­sion.

There is no po­lit­i­cal divi­sion on the le­gal-ac­tion ques­tion, with 81 per cent of BC New Demo­cratic Party vot­ers, 75 per cent of BC Green Party vot­ers and 61 per cent of BC Lib­eral vot­ers think­ing the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment is act­ing ap­pro­pri­ately.

Solv­ing this prob­lem will not be easy, and the so­lu­tions will prob­a­bly not al­low gov­ern­ments to score po­lit­i­cal points. In spite of this, Bri­tish Columbians have been clear about what can be ac­com­plished. Ed­u­cat­ing res­i­dents and help­ing those who want to stop us­ing drugs are para­mount, along with re­duc­ing our reliance on opi­oids for ail­ments and sav­ing lives in safe-in­jec­tion sites.

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