Ladysmith is trying to open a conversation about the local impact of opioid addiciton with a public presentation — including a screening of the documentary ‘A Just Society’ by Cowichan Valley filmmaker Nick Versteeg — on Tuesday, May 7, 5-7 p.m., at Ladysmith Secondary School. (File photo)

It’s here: tackling opioid addiction in Ladysmith

Nine overdose deaths in two years “pretty alarming considering this is a small town”

Ladysmith’s social service agencies want to “start a conversation,” one they believe could save lives in the community.

The opioid crisis has hit home, more so than many residents realize, and that calls for action, said Christy Wood, executive director of Ladysmith Resource Centre Association.

“The statistics are pretty alarming considering this is the small town of Ladysmith,” Wood said. “We actually have one of the higher rates.”

Wood co-chairs the Ladysmith inter-agency committee, which recently heard from Dr. Shannon Waters, medical health officer for the region.

Waters cited newly available data indicating the extent of substance addiction and overdoses within the Cowichan Valley region.

“We were quite shocked at the statistics in terms of people,” Wood said. “It’s more hidden here because we are rural. What we thought was, ‘Let’s start a conversation.’ ”

Waters said data collected since she started in her role two years ago have shed light on the extent of substance addiction in Ladysmith.

In the Cowichan Valley region as a whole, there are an estimated 1,400 to 2,100 individuals addicted to substances, Waters said.

As the crisis worsened, there were four fatal overdoses reported in Ladysmith in 2016 and five in 2017 compared with 11 each year in the Cowichan local health area.

About three-quarters of those overdoses occurred among males yet the proportion was higher, 89 percent, in Ladysmith. Most victims were age 30 to 39, but in Ladysmith they were older, age 50 and up.

“A lot of the deaths — over 50 percent — are people who were using alone in private residences,” Waters said.

That’s a key point.

Health officials say social attitudes and misconceptions stigmatizing addiction present a barrier in the ability to deliver support services and treatment, one they hope to overcome through increased public awareness.

Stigmatization of addiction shames people and makes them more inclined to conceal their addictive behaviour. They may have resorted to opioids to treat pain only to find themselves prone to a potentially lethal dose laced with fentanyl. The risk rises when there is no one around to administer the life-saving antidote naloxone. Hence, the very factors that push addiction into the shadows in rural communities also increase the danger.

“Your neighbours might be struggling with this,” Wood said.

Since 2016, more than 10,300 Canadians died from opioid-related overdoses. Despite a provincial health emergency declared three years ago to fully mobilize resources, fatal overdoses continue to claim about three lives a day in B.C.

There are means to address the crisis, Dr. Waters said.

“We’ve got the ability, because of the province instituting a public health emergency, to do things that are innovative,” she said.

That may include mobile lifesaving services, an approach being tested elsewhere on the Island.

As well, there are technological interventions, computer applications that hold some promise, Waters said. Opioid agonist therapy, a substitution treatment, is used by more than 70 people in Ladysmith.

Health professionals are more convinced than ever that Canada should decriminalize addictive drugs in order to shift to a health-based harm reduction approach proven effective in other countries.

“Certainly, there has been a push to go that route from me as well as from other public health officials,” Waters said.

The conversation opens with a public presentation — including a screening of the documentary A Just Society by Cowichan Valley filmmaker Nick Versteeg — on Tuesday, May 7, 5-7 p.m., at Ladysmith Secondary School.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Commercial plaza proposed for Rocky Creek and Ludlow intersection

Town Council directed the application proceed for further consideration

Symphony pop-up concerts coming to Saltair

Only 40 tickets available so get them soon if you’re interested

South Wellington Elementary demolition not taking place next school year

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public School trustees vote against razing south-end school in 2020/21

One piper piping during the pandemic

Tribute to health care workers reaches the 100th performance

Town of Ladysmith receives $3.3 million grant for Arts & Heritage Hub

The funds will go to creating artist studios around the Machine Shop and maintaining heritage assets

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

We’re asking you to lock arms with us, as we look to better days ahead

B.C. Ferries increasing passenger capacity after COVID-19 restrictions

Transport Canada 50-per-cent limit being phased out, no current plans to provide masks

Shellfish industry get funds to clean up at Island sites and beyond

Businesses can apply to cover half of costs to clean up so-called ‘ghost gear’

Amber Alert for two Quebec girls cancelled after bodies found

Romy Carpentier, 6, Norah Carpentier, 11, and their father, Martin Carpentier, missing since Wednesday

B.C. man prepares to be first to receive double-hand transplant in Canada

After the surgery, transplant patients face a long recovery

Grocers appear before MPs to explain decision to cut pandemic pay

Executives from three of Canada’s largest grocery chains have defended their decision to end temporary wage increases

Bringing support to Indigenous students and communities, while fulfilling a dream

Mitacs is a nonprofit organization that operates research and training programs

RCMP ‘disappointed’ by talk that race a factor in quiet Rideau Hall arrest

Corey Hurren, who is from Manitoba, is facing 22 charges

Most Read