Westward Independent

Overdose Crisis Skyrockets 400% Is Safer Supply Falling Short?

by Westward Independent
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Cowichan’s opioid crisis, has roots deeply entrenched in the fabric of communities across the nation.

This has prompted a variety of responses aimed at stemming the tide of overdoses and deaths. Among these initiatives, the “safer supply” program stands out as a government-endorsed strategy designed to mitigate the devastating impact of the crisis. Introduced as a compassionate, harm-reduction approach, the program provides drug users with pharmaceutical alternatives to illicit street drugs, aiming to curb the deadly consequences of substances like fentanyl. The rationale behind safer supply is straightforward: by offering regulated, less harmful options, the program seeks to save lives that might otherwise be lost to overdose.

However, an in-depth examination of the safer supply initiative reveals a complex reality fraught with unintended consequences. Despite its noble intentions, the program has been criticized for inadvertently exacerbating the very crisis it aims to combat. In British Columbia, for example, the escalation of the situation is starkly illustrated by the alarming increase in emergency calls related to overdoses. In the community of Duncan, the number of such calls to ambulance services has skyrocketed, from 162 in 2016 to an astounding 819 by 2023—an increase of over 400%. This dramatic rise in overdose-related emergencies underscores the severity of the opioid epidemic and the challenges faced in addressing it effectively.

The safer supply program, while providing temporary relief for some, has also led to significant issues. A notable portion of the pharmaceutical drugs distributed through the program are being diverted to the black market, where they are sold or traded, often for more potent substances like fentanyl. This diversion not only undermines the goals of safer supply but also contributes to a cycle of addiction that is increasingly difficult to break. Moreover, the availability of potent opioids through the program has attracted a new demographic of users, including young people who, drawn by the drugs’ accessibility and perceived safety, are at significant risk of developing opioid addictions.

Critics argue that the liberal government’s approach, centred on the provision of alternative drugs, fails to address the root causes of addiction and overlooks the need for comprehensive support services. The comparison to the OxyContin scandal of the 1990s and 2000s is inevitable, with many fearing that history is repeating itself. During the OxyContin crisis, the over-prescription of potent opioids, driven by misleading information and aggressive marketing, led to widespread abuse, addiction, and death. Today, the safer supply program, despite its different context and objectives, is seen by some as a similarly flawed strategy that risks contributing to the perpetuation of the opioid crisis rather than resolving it.

Against this backdrop of increasing emergency calls and the complex challenges of the safer supply program, the story of individuals like Wendy, living on the front lines of the crisis, offers a poignant insight into the daily realities of those it aims to help. Her experience, navigating the pitfalls of the safer supply system and the broader opioid epidemic, embodies the human cost of a crisis that continues to defy simple solutions. As the debate over the effectiveness of safer supply and the search for more holistic approaches to addiction treatment continue, the escalating emergency call volumes in communities like Duncan serve as a sombre reminder of the urgent need for action.

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