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Island Health marks 8th anniversary of B.C.’s toxic-drug crisis

Stigmas around addiction can make it difficult for those who want to come forward
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Moms Stop the Harm advocates and supporters on the sixth anniversary to mark the public health emergency of the declaration due to the significant increase in opioid-related overdoses across the province in Victoria on April 14, 2022. Eight years on, in 2024, the toxic drug crisis in B.C. has killed over 2,000 people on Vancouver Island. (The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward) THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

In eight years, B.C.’s toxic drug crisis has killed more than 2,400 people in the Island Health region.

The health authority reflected on the deaths Friday (April 12), just two days ahead of the eighth anniversary on April 14. The public health emergency has killed parents, sons, daughters, grandparents, neighbours and friends.

As of January 2024, 2,428 people on the Island have died from the toxic drug crisis and has claimed over 14,000 lives in B.C.

Toxic drugs in B.C. cause more deaths among people between 10 and 59 years of age than homicides, suicides, accidents, and natural diseases combined.

Stigmas around addiction can make it difficult for those who want to come forward, said Beth Haywood, a peer project coordinator and former crack cocaine and heroin user for 20 years.

“Stigma kills,” Haywood said.

Haywood’s experience with her addictions allows her to provide empathy and compassion for those trying to get clean.

“We need to see people as equal and deserving of our continued love and support. “

Haywood and the other members of Island Health’s harm-reduction team work closely with those suffering to ensure they have access to quality medical services.

“You wouldn’t turn your back on someone who had cancer, just like we don’t turn our backs on someone struggling with substance use,” Haywood said.

The harm-reduction team strives to ensure that everything it does is done fairly and treated like any other medical condition.

“I’ve seen the healthcare system make great strides to expand and improve services, but despite this, the wicked nature of the public health emergency causes distress, as injury and death related to unregulated substances continue to increase,” said Tracey Thompson, another harm-reduction coordinator at Island Health.

Thompson said have been using harm reduction principles to guide her work for more than 20 years.

Island Health staff meet patients at their current level of need, acknowledging that some may continue using drugs while working towards their health goals.

To learn more about Island Health’s Harm Reduction for Substance Use services, islandhealth.ca/our-services/mental-health-substance-use-services.

Research shows harm reduction services and strategies can:

• Reduce stigma

• Increase access to support programs and health and social services

• Reduce sharing of substance use equipment

• Reduce hepatitis C and HIV

• Reduce deaths and harm from drug poisoning and substance use

READ MORE: ‘Organized crime’: Victoria shoplifting wave often about clearing drug debts





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