The impact of the opioid crisis can be seen with disturbing clarity on any day in the Okanagan-Shuswap.
But while that evidence elicits a mixture of anger, empathy and — above all — frustration, it has failed to stop the carnage.
Overdose deaths continue to climb across B.C. Despite the declaration of a “health emergency” a year ago, the number of people dying from drug overdoses climbed 50 per cent in the first quarter of this year. On average, four people a day are dying in B.C.
The reasons for this crisis are complex. But one factor that fails to get sufficient attention is the availability of opioids on city streets. We are simply awash with narcotics that have been manufactured for commercial use. They are not made in clandestine drug labs, smuggled from the jungles of Central America, or brought from the plains of Afghanistan. They are made right here in North America, or imported from other manufacturers overseas.
Their intent is a noble one: to ease pain in those who are suffering. However, their availability is out of control.
The federal government recently attempted to address that issue by creating a special panel tasked with developing new guidelines for physicians prescribing opioids — but that effort hit a snag this week when it was discovered one member of that panel had financial ties with one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in Canada.
Health Minister Jane Philpott has since ordered an independent scientific review of those guidelines.
Like any other epidemic threatening the health of our nation, it needs not moralizing or extended study, but leadership and action — now.