Vancouver advocate disappointed in lack of overdose awareness during federal campaign

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — As Overdose Awareness Month draws to a close, a Vancouver advocate says he’s disappointed he’s barely heard about it from campaigning federal politicians.

Since the pandemic began, overdose deaths have surpassed the number of lives lost in B.C. from car crashes, suicide, and homicides, combined, according to the BCCDC.

B.C. has seen a spike in illicit drug toxicity deaths. Since 2016 more than 7,000 people have died, but as Guy Felicella, a Peer Clinical Advisor and recovery advocate, points out, despite thousands of Canadians dying a year, it’s not even an election issue.

“It’s not even on the list,” he said. “Which shows how sad that truly is that a lot of the public, unfortunately, is worried about other things in our society and unfortunately, people don’t start to care about it until it affects their child, family member, or friend.”

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Fentanyl remains the biggest killer, as the opioid was found in eight out of 10 drug deaths in 2020. The second most common drug found in drug deaths was methamphetamines.

British Columbia’s overdose crisis continues to devastate communities, with the province reporting 176 lives lost to toxic illicit drugs in April.

Last year, more than 6,000 Canadians died of apparent opioid toxicity, with most involving Fentanyl and drugs like it. The overwhelming majority are reported to be accidental.

“We don’t have an addictions crisis, what we have is a drug poisoning crisis,” Felicella said.

Despite talk from Ottawa, Felicella tells NEWS 1130 he’s seen little movement on harm reduction and safe supply.

“We just lacked the urgency to address the root causes of the crisis, which is our bad drug policies and laws that are really the thing that’s hindering us from moving forward for people to have access to a regulated drug supply. So it’s really sad that we continue to push for change, and yet, there are no changes being made to the drug policy laws.”

He says in the meantime, people should continue to advocate for these things and support those who use drugs, whether they are dependent or recreational users.

“It’s really important just to exercise some compassion and understanding that the person is struggling … support is really important, especially for people who are already using alone and isolated,” Felicella said.

“The most important thing is that you show up, you call in check-in, make sure he’s okay, or if she’s okay.”

Aug. 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day, and many local community groups have planned events to honour those lives lost and advocate for harm reduction, safe supply, and decriminalization.

– With files from Tamara Slobogean, Nikitha Martins and Claire Fenton

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