EDITORIAL: As thousands have died from overdose epidemic, our best has not been enough

Unless things change dramatically, 1,000 more people will die in 2018 and 2019 and 2020 and so on.

Five deaths in just nine hours.

Imagine, for a second, that if instead of drugs, we were talking about any other cause of death. Imagine that, in the space of five years, the number of people dying of a certain disease had increased fivefold. Imagine that disease was now killing 1,000 more British Columbians every year than it was five years ago.

That it had killed 2,000 people in the last two years.

What mountains would we move to stop it from killing another 1,000 people next year? And the year after that? And the year after that?

Wars have been launched over fewer lives. Histories have been upended. Billions have been spent.

On Friday, three men and two women died in Abbotsford. They are among more than 100 people who have died in Abbotsford from illicit drug overdoses since the start of 2015.

This is where we note that these people had families, lived lives, and three of them died in private homes. We note that most aren’t living on the streets or stereotypical opioid users. We note this because readers should know their loved ones may be at risk, and they may be able to help.

But let’s also be clear: It doesn’t matter how successful a life a person has lived when they succumb to an overdose; any and every death is unacceptable.

Which brings us to the heart of the matter. Over the last year, governments and health authorities have dramatically ramped up their efforts to deal with the current crisis. Emergencies have been declared, laws and policies have been changed, and money has been spent. Men and women on the ground and in the halls of power have devoted days and months to slow the death rate.

It has not been enough.

It will never be enough.

More than 1,000 people have died this year, and unless things change dramatically, 1,000 more people will die in 2018 and 2019 and 2020 and 2021 and 2022 and 2023. In the past, many of those would have either overcome their addictions, or aged out of casual use. We may know it or not, but Abbotsford is full of ex-drug users.

There are mothers, sons, grandparents and in-laws who use drugs and are at risk. The epidemic is cutting short lives that would otherwise bend towards old age and wisdom.

None of it is acceptable, and no additional resources can wait. Tomorrow, next week and next month will always be too far away. Everything local, provincial and federal governments can do to address the crisis must be done and it should be done now.

That means overdose prevention and safe consumption sites are needed where necessary and effective. It means instant access to opioid agonist treatment to anybody who expresses a passing interest, and a public health blitz to inform users of their treatment options.

And it means finally reckoning with how our drug laws are enforced and their attendant consequences.

Purveyors of deadly drugs need to be found and courts need to emphasize the unprecedented and immediate need for deterrence in setting appropriate penalties.

But by now it should be clear we can’t police our way out of this problem. Allowing access to a regulated supply of opioids for those who are addicted and in everyday danger needs to be seriously considered.

There are hazards associated with every solution, and they should be considered. But the last two years have made clear the previously unfathomable stakes: 1,000 lives every year in B.C.

It’s that deadly simple.

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