Sad fact is that the answer to opioid crisis eludes us

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
April 10, 2019 - 5:24am Updated: April 10, 2019 - 11:34am
Image Credit: CFJC Today

FRUSTRATION WITH what seems like the losing battle against opioid addiction was obvious Tuesday when Interior Health representatives talked to Kamloops City council.

Councillors aren’t drug-addiction experts and can’t be expected to have the answers, but it’s clear Interior Health hasn’t found them yet, either. Forty-eight people died in Kamloops of overdoses last year.

Mayor Ken Christian suggested that if the discussion was about someone dying in a swimming pool, on a hockey rink or in a crosswalk, “we would be all over it.”

The big difference is that swimming pools can be staffed with more life guards, hockey equipment can be improved, and crosswalks can be made safer with warning lights. Drug overdoses are a far more complicated challenge.

The concept of harm reduction, needle exchanges and other standard tools used against the opioid crisis were an inevitable part of the discussion.

“When you hand out these needles you’re not helping that individual at all,” Coun. Bill Sarai told the Interior Health reps. “You’re sending them back out into our community to go buy drugs illegally, to shoot up and cause havoc in our city.”

That comment contradicts the basis of harm reduction, which is a pragmatic approach aimed at managing the drug problem rather than expecting to eliminate it. Needle handout or exchange programs are just one attempt at harm reduction and are aimed at reducing the immediate health risks of drug injections. While many doubt their effectiveness, some studies show they actually reduce crime, not increase it.

Comments such as Christian’s and Sarai’s come from exasperation caused by lack of progress. Sad fact is, though, that we can vent all we want, but if there was an answer, health authorities would — to use the mayor’s words — “be all over it.”

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and newspaper editor. He publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Editor's Note: This opinion piece reflects the views of its author, and does not necessarily represent the views of CFJC Today or the Jim Pattison Broadcast Group.