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Interior Health calls for pause on Sicamous bylaw prohibiting public use of illicit drugs

Doctor, harm reduction specialists urge 6-month evaluation of decriminalization
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Statistics about the local health region Sicamous is in were shared by harm reduction coordinator Myanne Peacock and other representatives from Interior Health in a presentation to Sicamous council at the March 8 committee of the whole meeting. (Interior Health image)

Sicamous council now has more information to consider in its quest to protect the district in the face of illicit drug decriminalization.

A panel consisting of Interior Health medical health officer Jonathon Malo, decriminalization lead Jordan McAlpine and harm reduction coordinator for the Thompson-Cariboo Myanne Peacock virtually presented to council at its March 8 committee of the whole meeting. The presentation was in response to a proposed District of Sicamous bylaw that would prohibit use of illicit drugs in public spaces such as municipal parks.

At the Feb. 8 council meeting, Sicamous RCMP Sgt. Murray McNeil brought forward concerns around a lack of regulation concerning public use following the province’s illicit drug decriminalization exemption. From Jan. 31 of this year to Jan. 31 2026, users can possess and ingest 2.5 g of certain illicit drugs without legal repercussions. The drugs are still prohibited on school grounds, at licenced child-care facilities, airports, in cars or boats or Canadian Armed Forces property, but other public spaces are not regulated.

To counteract the lack of regulation in public spaces, council has given first and second reading to a bylaw, brought to the Feb. 22 meeting, outlining the illicit drugs in the province’s exemption that would be illegal to use at Sicamous parks and beaches.

READ MORE: Sicamous council and police concerned over lack of legislation in drug decriminalization

READ MORE: Sicamous council moving to prohibit use of illicit drugs in parks

Malo sent a letter at that time urging council not to adopt the bylaw without proper consultation with the health authority.

The local health area Sicamous is included in skirts Armstrong and Enderby to the south, includes Salmon Arm, Blind Bay, Sorrento and Malakwa, and stops short of Revelstoke. In this area, Peacock revealed there were 12 overdose deaths in 2022.

Malo then described the impacts decriminalization has on individuals, communities and the environment, and what other options there are for users, comparing opioids to tobacco and alcohol. The presentation outlined the risks of opioid use and stated the benefits of decriminalization.

Councillors voiced their concerns about the safety of children, quality of life in Sicamous, trauma in witnessing drug use and overdose and the lack of information shared with schools.

The panel acknowledged the concerns. Malo stated the official public health recommendation is to wait six months to evaluate the impact decriminalization has on the community before moving ahead with a new bylaw or making any significant changes. As the district’s bylaw has already heard first and second reading, Malo said he expects to be involved in further discussions before a third reading or adoption, and more consultation is required for anything that impacts public health.

The six-month period is meant to help council decide if decriminalization makes public drug use a bigger problem.

Peacock acknowledged other services like safe injection and overdose prevention sites (OPS) are scarce in rural communities, and that overdoses are a big risk in places like Sicamous, which is hours away from the nearest harm reduction sites in Vernon and Kamloops. She, along with Malo and McAlpine, acknowledged council’s concern around the lack of regulation and commended the passion for the community.

“Six months gives the opportunity to see what the real issues are, and it helps if suddenly the issue becomes a bigger problem, like people using in parks, then it’s reason to get an OPS here. Then you see it’s a visible issue and we can support to get resources into the community,” said Peacock.

McNeil said he brought the issue to council’s attention last month to make sure they were educated and aware, and to give them the chance to decide what direction to take. He acknowledged that drug use in parks is not currently an issue in Sicamous.

“It’s not something the detachment is dealing with frequently, or realistically at all,” said McNeil, adding the only call he’s heard of this year was someone using drugs in a car on a private road.

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@willson_becca
rebecca.willson@saobserver.net

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