Dr. Richard Stanwick, chief medical health officer for Island Health, speaks at a press conference on fentanyl at the Victoria Police Department on Nov. 5, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)

Dr. Richard Stanwick, chief medical health officer for Island Health, speaks at a press conference on fentanyl at the Victoria Police Department on Nov. 5, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)

COLUMN: Island Health solemnly reflects upon the fifth anniversary of opioid crisis

A record 1,724 people in B.C. died in 2020

It is with heavy hearts that we acknowledge the extraordinary loss of life to the illicit toxic drug supply.

A record 1,724 people in B.C. died in 2020 from drug poisoning, 263 of these in the Island Health region. Men are dying at an alarming rate, accounting for 86 per cent of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2020. Drug poisoning deaths are surging during the pandemic, and First Nations people are disproportionately affected, experiencing deaths 5.6 times the rate of other B.C. residents. The people we lost were sons, daughters, parents, and friends. We remember those who have died as a result of the toxic drug supply and acknowledge the grief felt by their families and friends. We recognize the courage of family members, loved ones, care providers and others who continue to support people who use substances.

Despite significant advances and ground-breaking efforts by so many, there is still more work to be done to address the illicit drug poisoning crisis. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing condition often rooted from childhood trauma. Negative and inaccurate views about people who use substances can lead people to stay silent and avoid seeking care. Policy makers, health-care leaders, community organizations, local governments, and advocates must continue to ask difficult questions and make vital decisions to reduce drug poisoning deaths in communities across the Island Health region.

We ask you, as members of your community, as local leaders, as neighbours, as family and friends, to create space for respectful dialogue around substance use. People from all walks of life use drugs for many different reasons. We all need connection, compassion and dignity. If you or someone you know needs support for their substance use, there is help. Starting a conversation could save a life. Resources are available at stopoverdose.gov.bc.ca.

– Dr. Richard Stanwick, Island Health vice president of population health & chief medical health officer, and Island Health’s medical health officers Drs. Sandra Allison, Michael Benusic, Charmaine Enns, Murray Fyfe, Paul Hasselback (retired), Dee Hoyano, and Shannon Waters.

opioid crisis