Editorial: A tale of two public health emergencies

June saw B.C. set another record for deaths linked to illicit drug toxicity, with 175 fatalities, up from the 171 in May.

One of those deaths was on the Sunshine Coast. In May there were three suspected or confirmed drug toxicity deaths on the Coast.

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In the BC Coroners Service’s July 16 news release on the mounting death toll from what has been recognized as a public health emergency for more than four years now, chief coroner Lisa Lapointe acknowledged the impact of B.C.’s other public health emergency – the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people who use drugs, as it has all British Columbians,” Lapointe said. “Access to key harm reduction services has been a challenge and our social networks are smaller.”

But it’s the very last footnote at the end of that July 16 release that may tell the most important story. It said, simply, “No deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.”

There it is in black and white – safe supply and safe ways to consume work.

As we reported this week, the Community Action Team, RainCity Housing and Vancouver Coastal Health have taken a major step toward ensuring those options are more readily available here on the Coast with a “public safe consumption space” at the RainCity shelter in Sechelt.

Local governments and health officials on the Sunshine Coast were quick to react to the public health emergency triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, taking concrete steps to reduce the risk.

The public, by and large, enthusiastically embraced and supported those measures, and the Sunshine Coast, so far, has had few COVID cases and no confirmed deaths.

The developments of the past few weeks have shown that local governments, health officials and advocates for safe consumption options have begun to react with a new sense of urgency to meet B.C.’s longer standing public health emergency.

And with that the Sunshine Coast faces an arguably bigger test of public willingness to enthusiastically embrace and support the measures needed to tackle a health emergency.

When the question of a safe consumption site came to Sechelt council last month, mayor Darnelda Siegers noted that events overtook the efforts to get full public buy-in and “do those community engagements … that education and everything else.”

We hope residents will rise to the occasion as well as they have to the COVID pandemic. After all, there wasn’t time for community engagements and education on the pandemic either – just time to act.

© Copyright Coast Reporter

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