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COLUMN: All I want for the holidays is a safer B.C.

Nelson-Creston MLA writes about the toxic drug crisis
Nelson-Creston MLA Brittny Anderson. Photo: Submitted

One of my staff found Molly collapsed on the pavement behind our Nelson office last spring.

Molly is a middle-aged woman who’s struggled with addiction and homelessness. She’s also funny and engaging, had become a welcome presence around the office, and last holiday season even volunteered to help send out cards to constituents.

Now there she was, unconscious on the ground, in obvious medical distress.

Luckily for Molly, there was an ambulance at the end of the alley and the paramedics (who are the real heroes of this story) may have saved her life.

One of my constituency assistants was so traumatized she phoned with the news in tears, but for those first responders it was another all-too-familiar case of toxic drug poisoning.

We have a toxic drug crisis in this province, and it is a public health emergency we cannot ignore. More than 10,000 people have died from overdoses since 2016. We’re averaging between five and six deaths a day, mostly from fentanyl, and it must stop.

Premier David Eby has made it a priority to stem the number of overdoses and deaths in British Columbia.

Eby has experience dealing with a health and public policy crisis like this. When he was a new lawyer in the 1990s many of his clients came from Vancouver’s downtown east side, so he knows firsthand the heartache and loss toxic drugs are causing.

In 2017 our government appointed the first minister solely responsible for mental health and addictions, and since day one the people in that role have been building a system of care that didn’t exist before.

One of Eby’s first acts as premier was to promise new ambitious measures to deal with the crisis, including building more safe housing with appropriate services. Housing and addiction are in many ways linked, and tent cities serve no one.

Eby has gone on record to say involuntary treatment for people who overdose more than once a day may be necessary to slow deaths and hospitalizations. A bold thing for the former head of the BC Civil Liberties Association to propose, but it shows his willingness to explore all options in order to improve health outcomes and keep people safe.

Here in the Nelson-Creston riding we are taking action as well.

We already have ANKORS and our Nelson Street Outreach team, which are doing incredible work with vulnerable people every day.

Nelson has the only spectrometer in rural B.C. at ANKORS, which provides anonymous, stigma-free, free drug testing and is sent to other communities on regularly scheduled days.

The Rural Empowered Drug Users Network are on the front lines cleaning up needles and being present for people in risk of poisoning.

We are fortunate to have a doctor in Nelson who is working to establish a safe supply clinic with a nurse practitioner to separate people from the toxic drug supply and, if they want it, provide them avenues to access counselling and other supports. This clinic could prescribe fentanyl patches, compounded fentanyl capsules and oral morphine, which are allowed under B.C.’s new safe supply program. This is a bold and important option that can save lives and connect people with health care and treatment.

We are also working to add a local overdose prevention site that will allow use by inhalation to help keep people safe. The most common method of using drugs has become inhalation, and because of the increased toxicity of illicit drugs the user doesn’t know if their drugs may be tainted. Using at an OPS means there are trained staff on-site to help in case something goes wrong.

Molly just had one hit off a pipe, and had no idea there was fentanyl in it when she collapsed.

Her story is typical.

Immediately after the incident with Molly, my staff and I all took an updated naloxone administration course to ensure we are prepared. The course was straight forward, and we all feel better knowing we are more prepared to help someone experiencing an overdose in the future.

As the premier’s Special Advisor on Youth the toxic drug crisis is an issue close to my heart and I want to ensure you we are taking that action. People like Molly are depending on it.

Please have a safe and wonderful holiday season.

Brittny Anderson is MLA for Nelson-Creston.