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‘It’s a hard day’: Safe drug supply needed as province announces toxic drug deaths

The province of B.C. announced over 200 individuals died in April due to toxic drugs, marking over 800 deaths since the start of the year.

On Vancouver Island, it marks 153 deaths so far. Of those, the highest number of deaths is in Nanaimo at 45, which is the same as Victoria.

Campbell River follows at 19, the Comox Valley at 13 and the Cowichan Valley at 10.

For registered nurse and co-chair of the Nanaimo Community Action Team Sarah Lovegrove, the day is a difficult one to swallow as she keeps seeing things get worse.

“It’s devastating to be constantly reminded every month that your efforts are almost futile, and more and more people keep dying each month,” said Lovegrove. “The more and more you do this work, the more connected you become to people at risk of dying and the more people you lose.

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“To see them just represented as numbers and have those numbers diminished by stigma or torn apart on social media when they’re just human beings.”

The team works to support community-led projects focusing on mental health and substance abuse in the area.

With the circumstances, Lovegrove is pushing for more safe supply especially with the toxicity of the drugs. According to data from the province, fentanyl is the primary driver of the deaths, representing eight out of 10.

“With the toxicity levels in the drugs right now, what we need is a widespread designation of safe consumption sites across our communities,” said Lovegrove. “Increasing these safe spaces is essential to preventing death and maintaining lives.”

Lovegrove says when it comes to education, she describes bars as being safe consumption sites for alcohol.

“The way we prevent public consumption of alcohol is through the institution of bars, and the parallels run deep in that comparison.”

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She says on top of safe consumption sites, substance use family housing is needed to put roofs over the heads of unhoused dealing with substance abuse, and work needs to be done to drop stigma.

“People need to be fed and warm and feel safe in order to do anything moving forward in life, so that’s an absolutely essential piece of the puzzle we need,” said Lovegrove.

Heading forward, Lovegrove says more treatment options need to be offered as current and popular methods do not necessarily work with opioids, along with wraparound supports with counselling and trauma-based treatment.

Lovegrove is also voicing concerns about consumption bylaws being introduced to solve the issue, for Nanaimo in particular. She says people do not improve when enforcement increases and says it further isolates those going through addiction.

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