It was late afternoon and I was driving out of the Thrifty Foods parking lot. A middle-aged man dressed in black jeans was walking awkwardly down the sidewalk. He caught my eye because he was clearly inebriated and on closer look I could see he was high.
I wondered what his story was. Did he just get off work, does he live around here, is he in distress, where did he get his drugs? So many questions ran through my mind as I saw his image get smaller in the rear view mirror.
He was a reminder of the secret world of drug use. People are taking drugs alone, behind closed doors and they are dying in our community. Young men especially are dying from toxic and tainted drug supplies that have become increasingly dangerous due to COVID-19 disrupting the supply chain.
If we don’t see it, or we don’t hear about it, we conclude it’s not happening here, but it is, and we should be concerned and very afraid. Illicit drugs are killing our friends and our neighbours.
When a person dies from overdose, it is considered a sudden death, it is not considered suspicious, therefore the police do not report the death to the public due to confidentiality reasons. Unless you know the family, we don’t hear about overdose deaths in our community.
That is unless you are the Halpen family who bravely and courageously publicly announced in the Optimist that their son’s accidental overdose late last year was the result of toxic fentanyl. They revealed the cause of Morley’s death hoping it would educate other families about the dangers of street drugs and the crisis of drug use in our community.
Sadly since Morley’s death I have been told two more young men have died this year of overdoses in our community. I don’t know who they are but I have no doubt their families are equally devastated and forever changed.
When provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced 170 people had died in May due to drug overdoses, it brought tears to my eyes. That’s like a fully loaded Boeing 737-800 plane crashing over B.C.
Drug addicts are not confined to the streets of the Downtown Eastside, drug addiction afflicts all levels of society regardless of socio-economic status. In our affluent South Delta communities, there is plenty of drug use happening behind the scenes, we just don’t see it.
Why are we not discussing drug use and overdose in our community? We should be helping families in crisis with our love and support before it’s too late. I believe it’s because of shame. More than any other affliction, opioid use is the shameful secret behaviour that we find hard to discuss. Let’s do better by not blaming and first listen to people’s stories with compassion.
We can address drug addiction like we treat COVID-19: by being kind, calm and safe. At least that would be a good start.
Ingrid Abbott is a freelance broadcaster and writer who is looking forward to the day when she doesn’t have to write about COVID-19 but realizes that day is a long way off.