Face of the opioid crisis

By Carole Fawcett

Almost 1,500 people died in B.C. of an opioid overdose in the past year, according to the provincial government — 232 of those people were in the area that Interior Health covers.

In Vernon, there were 24 deaths. 

These numbers surpassed vehicle accident deaths and also the number of people who died from AIDS in 1991 —the height of that health crisis.

In 1991, 1,800 people died of AIDS — across Canada. So you can see from that comparison of numbers that the deaths from opioid overdose is very high, as it reflects numbers in British Columbia only.

In Portugal, in 2001 they decriminalized drugs, cocaine, heroin, and other drugs. They decided to treat possession (small amounts) as a public health issue.  The drugs remained illegal, but getting caught with them meant a small fine and a referral to a treatment program. There would be no jail and no criminal record.

This decision saved lives and the opioid crisis stabilized. They worked together with the addict and paved the way for the likelihood of success in overcoming the addiction.

This systemic change flowed throughout the country, right down to the average person and people were speaking more respectfully with deeper understanding, of those who had addiction challenges.

It has been proven that the authoritarian approach does not always work, and in fact, can exacerbate the situation. Granted, there have to be some rules and regulations, but they need to be used as guidelines with flexibility built in.

We must remember that those who use drugs are all someone’s child, mother, father, sister, brother or friend. They are human beings who did not purposely choose to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. 

The circumstances of their life created this path, and given that current treatment models have low recovery rates, we must step up and provide the support so that all our citizens can live with dignity and self respect. Perhaps it is time for change.  Let’s trade our judgment for compassion.

Parental heartache

Sharon didn’t know that when she gave birth to baby Brian that he would die at 19 years old of gioblastoma. 

She walked alongside him when he had his brain surgeries and his subsequent cancer treatments.  That was Sharon’s first loss.  It affected her in ways she is still coping with to this day.

Her daughter, Monique, was a painfully shy child. She started using drugs at age 21 with her boyfriend, a heroin addict.  She became pregnant and by the time the child was born, the boyfriend had left. 

She tried to raise a baby on her own, but wasn’t a very good parent. Her boyfriend’s mother took over as the baby’s guardian and has raised her, together with Sharon. 

Monique continued to use drugs and was a sex worker to earn the money for the drugs.  She had two more babies, who were adopted by the same adoptive parents.  One was born in a hospital and one was born in a toilet in a motel. Both were drug addicted at birth. 

Monique still lives on the street, sleeps in a car and barely survives.  Sharon has lost contact with her, despite her best efforts to stay in touch.

Sharon’s third loss was when her 13-year-old daughter, Jamie, started to use drugs and get into trouble.  Jamie became an angry, impossible-to-deal-with teenager with erratic behaviours, lashing out at her Mom and her step Dad to the point she had to go into foster care. 

But, by the time she was 16 she was free of drugs, returned home, graduated, and went on to train in a professional career that would have her working with children.   

Sadly, she was in a very bad car accident, suffered head injury, had her jaw realigned and had to wear hearing aids.  Jamie was put on oxycotin (three months prescription at a time).  When her physician cut her off her meds suddenly, she turned to street drugs to deal with the pain. 

She has spiralled down from there, getting involved with fraud activities, spending time in jail and once again becoming involved with drugs.  Her boyfriend overdosed on fentanyl and died. 

Just as she was preparing to speak to a drug counsellor who had agreed to attend her parent’s home, Jamie overdosed and Sharon had to do CPR.  Jamie is still using and now lives on the street, having recently been kicked out of her rental.

Sharon and her husband, Bob, did everything for the girls.  They tried to help them, bought them groceries, paid the rent on a few occasions, drove them to medical appointments and reached out with love in every conceivable way. 

But despite their best attempts, nothing worked.  Each time, their daughters would fall back into the downward spiral.

Bob has done his best to be strong throughout all this, but as he says, “it’s hard to be the rock, when the rock is crumbling too.”

Sharon shares that the guilt and the shame is at times overwhelming for both of them.  She has spent years trying to figure out why these two girls went down this path.

She has cried oceans of tears. “There have been times when I didn’t know if I could go on any longer and there are times when I am devastated by events and it feels like my heart is crushed.”

Carole Fawcett wrote an in-depth article for Vernon Shares, Community Dialogue Project on the opioid crisis, of which this article has been a part. [email protected]; http://www.wordaffair.com


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