OUR VIEW: Overdose list should be a wake-up call for everyone

New Westminster made a terrible list last week.

Our city was listed as one of 20 B.C. communities identified by the provincial government this year as urgently needing to improve the response to drug overdoses.

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It wasn’t meant as a criticism of New West; it was merely a reflection of the terrible toll this crisis is taking on people who live here.

There were 24 illicit drug overdose deaths in New West in 2017.

According to data from the B.C. Coroners Service, the number of overdose deaths last year (24) is more than double the number of deaths in 2016 (10). There were 12 deaths in 2015, nine in 2014, five in 2013 and three in 2012.

That’s a staggering increase, requiring a rapid response.

The province announced last week that New West will receive up to $100,000 to address the crisis. The city’s newly formed Community Action Team – a group of front-line community agencies, city representatives, experts and those with “lived experience” of drug addictions – has submitted a grant application to access the province’s new Community Overdose Crisis Innovation Fund and is waiting for approval.

According to Dr. Aamir Bharmal, medical health officer with Fraser Health, reducing the stigma surrounding drug use is a significant part of the work the group hopes to do.

“We recognize that stigma kills and is one of the big factors to the overdose crisis,” he told the Record. “Our goal is to really work on decreasing a lot of the stigma that might be there.”

So, this is the point of this editorial – to talk about the problem.

We all need to acknowledge that New West is a great place to live but that too many people are dying because they’ve used drugs alone and have overdosed.

Admitting we have a problem doesn’t diminish our community.

There shouldn’t be a stigma attached to this admission.

The more we talk about this, the more people are educated on the subject. That leads to people using drugs in a safer way. It also leads to people being trained in the use of naloxone – a medication that can save the life of someone who has overdosed.

Let’s all get involved in being part of the solution.

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