Why the drug crisis is much more visible in Okanagan, Kamloops than out east | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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Why the drug crisis is much more visible in Okanagan, Kamloops than out east

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK

The illicit drug crisis is something people in communities throughout British Columbia rub shoulders with daily, while more eastern regions of the country don't. It seems as though the distribution network and the drugs themselves are to blame.

Communities throughout the Thompson-Okanagan region witness the effects of the drug crisis daily among the homeless community which is quite unique to western Canada, according to Dr. Eugenia Oviedo-Joekes, a researcher with the Centre for Advancing Health Outcomes and the School of Population and Public Health at UBC.

"The overdose and drug crisis is much higher in western Canada than in eastern Canada, and fentanyl and its analogs is the main culprit. That's because of the distribution network that is decided by those who move those drugs and in western Canada this network is dominated by fentanyl whereas there's a smaller network in the east and it distributes mainly stimulants," Dr. Oviedo-Joekes says.

"We don't have enough research to know why these networks are established that way, we speculate why, which can sometimes get us in trouble, and I think it's enough to say that the ports of entry for those particular substances are in the west for fentanyl and in the east for stimulants and that's why there's a difference in the drug crisis in those two different regions."

Another reason the drug crisis seems more dire in western Canadian communities is because fentanyl has more visible consequences than other drugs, so in smaller communities such as Kelowna the impacts become very obvious, very fast.

Dr. Oviedo-Joekes said the drug crisis has many consequences, some less visible than others, such as mental health problems, strain on family relations and friendships, and financial issues.

"The big thing is that drugs like fentanyl and its analogs have such a huge impact on your body when you consume very small quantities, because of overdose and sudden death in many cases, the consequences are way more visible in the western region than in the eastern regions," she says. "We are, here in the west, more exposed to this substance that has a lethal effect."

So, how can the problem be resolved?

Many different policies in the past that were meant to put an end to the drug crisis could have made things worse.

Policies that solely focus on eliminating the drug supply are the type to make things worse because they are not efficient in doing so, and they stigmatize substance users who need to feel like they can get the help they need rather than feel like reaching out for help will lead to legal or other types of consequences.

"We have seen over years, I would say over more than a century, that it's very unlikely that you can stop the illegal market," Dr. Oviedo-Joekes says.

"A lot of people are afraid (of drug decriminalization) which is absolutely normal, but we have 100 years of the war on drugs that only caused pain and suffering and destroyed families, so I think it's time to try for a different approach to see what can solve this.

"What we can do from the social and health-care system is to continue working to provide an environment for Canadians that is based on a compassionate approach... and not a criminal approach to substance use.

"There needs to be a very honest approach to the population because as soon as we lie to them, they won't trust the system anymore. So clear information on what drugs can and cannot be done, and how to access services has to be part of our full approach so the conversation continues openly and our work needs to continue to dismantle the stigma towards people that use substances."

One suggestion is to remember that the introduction to addictive substances often starts at a young age, normally in the late teens, around the same time youth are introduced to alcohol.

"We know that what works is to be open and honest to youth, to provide protective factors where youth can feel that they have an adult that they can trust and talk to if they need any kind of support," she says.

Another important factor to keep in mind is there isn't a one-size fits all solution to the problem. What might work in Vancouver to reduce the drug crisis won't necessarily work for communities in the Thompson-Okanagan.

"One thing that's interesting to see... is that with Canadian diversity you can see how different communities are differently affected by the drug crisis. This shows how important it is to have a diverse approach to support diverse communities and not only have one way to deal with substance use," Dr. Oviedo-Joekes says.

In 2023 alone, 353 individuals died from illicit drug overdoses in the Thompson-Okanagan region, according to data from the BCCDC and a total of 2,511 died due to substance overdoses throughout the province.

To view resources available to individuals who suffer from addiction in the Interior, view the Interior Health website here and to view drug checking locations in the Interior visit the website here.

— This story was corrected at 3:30 p.m. Monday, April 8, 2024, to clarify Dr. Eugenia Oviedo-Joekes is not a researcher with the BCCDC.?


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