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South Cariboo not immune to drug crisis

More addiction treatment not necessarily the solution to the issue
(Interior Health logo)

Two apparent drug overdoses in 100 Mile House earlier this month have brought the reality of the toxic drug crisis home to the South Cariboo.

In 2022, there were two unregulated drug deaths total in 100 Mile House. As of April of this year, there were two deaths with two-thirds of the year yet to come.

“A lot more than expected so far for this year, and we’ll see what happens but, you know, these are all preventable deaths, so any deaths are bad,” Dr. Carol Fenton, medical health officer for Interior Health, said.

Fenton said the 100 Mile House unregulated drug death rate per 100,000 is 37.8 while the rate per 100,000 for the Cariboo Chilcotin is 45.4 over the same time period. The total for the Cariboo Chilcotin in 2022 was 64.5 so she said it is not good that the region is already at 45.4 with five and a half months still to go in the year.

According to the BC Coroners’ Service Dashboard, between 80-90 per cent of unregulated drug deaths are directly attributable to fentanyl. While it is a great drug for pain relief, when used correctly, Fenton said it is extremely potent. Even when used in healthcare, dosing can be tricky and it is used in the form of a patch or dissolved in solution.

When you are buying drugs on the street, Fenton explained, you’re buying an unlabelled powder. It is not possible to dose it safely which is what makes it so dangerous.

“If there’s too much on board, it actually tells your body to stop breathing. And it’s actually the stopping of the breathing that kills you,” she described.

“From my medical expertise perspective, the main tools that we have in our toolkit to prevent these deaths are drug checking and overdose prevention services, neither of which are very accessible in the Thompson Cariboo and so we need community members calling for this. We need municipal partners to be working to make this accessible to their population.”

Fenton said it is important not to mix substance use in general with addiction. “We can get addicted to anything. People get addicted to shopping and gambling and pornography and food.”

While more addiction treatment is often touted as a solution to the ongoing toxic drug crisis, Fenton said it may be that the regulation of illicit drugs is the answer.

She added that while it is important to help people with addictions, the current public health crisis is due to the unregulated supply which puts all levels of people in society at risk, including those who are simply experimenting on the weekend and are just looking for a good time.

“It is just as dangerous for those folks as those who have addiction driving them to use these substances,” said Fenton. “Humans like psychoactive substances, and the fact that some of them are illegal, the enforcement of which makes them unsafe, and then the ones that are legal - the difference in safety is that legal status.”

Those who enjoy caffeine, cannabis and alcohol benefit from the safety of regulation, from the safety of knowing where something was manufactured and what’s in it, and how to dose themselves appropriately because it’s labelled on the package how much is in there, she said.

“For other substances that you know, benefit people in other ways, that safety system is not in place,” Fenton said. “The two biggest factors that people are not calling on are governments, both federal and provincial to change the policies. We need everyone to be calling for regulation and safety.”

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Fiona Grisswell

About the Author: Fiona Grisswell

I graduated from the Writing and New Media Program at the College of New Caledonia in Prince George in 2004.
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