BY: CHARLOTTE LEFAVE
Brave volunteers have set up tents in the name of the Overdose Prevention Society (OPS) in downtown Vancouver. The epidemic of drug use in the city, especially in areas of poverty, is a rapidly growing issue. These volunteers are fighting to save lives every day, by performing CPR and administering Naloxone to people who would otherwise die on the street.
Providing safe injection sites for users under supervision so that they are less at risk for HIV is just one responsibility of their job. They recognized the futility of trying to stop drug abuse, which has only made them more determined to stop the fatalities that come as a result. On their gofundme page, they state that they “will not watch people die in [their] alleys while our government deals with red tape.” Groups like the OPS are the only ones intervening to stop the deaths in the downtown core from happening. With no government support, they run only on donations and volunteers to continue their work.
Hundreds of experienced civilians have joined the OPS to contribute to the team and aid in the prevention of opioid-related deaths. But this is just a temporary solution to a growing problem. These volunteers witness the problem and work to prevent the end point of drug-abuse, but is the government neglecting more than just the need for supervised safe-injection sites? The majority of these deaths are a result of addiction to prescription opioids, which are drugs mainly used to reduce pain like morphine, oxycodone, and most commonly, fentanyl.
As long as the trafficking remains completely out of control, the OPS understands that the drug abuse won’t be stopping anytime soon. Although the government is hesitant to act in aiding addicts, they have developed a four pillar plan to approach the drug problem: harm reduction, prevention, treatment, and enforcement. They claim to have reduced the drug use so far, but Vancouver’s average is still much higher than the national average for drug and alcohol abuse.
Working in high schools has been an effective method in tackling drug abuse and mental health early on; though counsellors are stretched thin amongst students, with an average of less than ten workers for tens of thousands of students. The School Age Children and Youth Substance Use Prevention Initiative (SACY), has been doing incredible work in schools to try and tackle the problem head on by counselling students instead of simply expelling them for drug use. By helping and educating youth when they begin experimenting with substances, SACY can prevent addiction before it becomes a prominent issue and damages their future.
But similar to the OPS, government funding has been severely deficient in supporting this initiative. Several staff cuts have occurred in the past few years and employees fear for the future of the program. Like DARE, SACY could be removed from Vancouver schools in the coming years, and then what? The pillar method has been rated quite low by youth workers around the city and though it results in some positive outcomes, it mostly seems to be proving ineffective.