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Letters: Compassion needed for Richmondites struggling with addiction

Closing safe-consumption sites in other provinces has led to more deaths, explains letter writer.
Richmond residents are divided over a proposed safe drug consumption site at Richmond Hospital.

Dear Editor,

Re: "Residents protest proposed safe-consumption site in Richmond" and "Richmond council votes 8-1 to explore safe drug consumption site"

Kudos to Kash Heed for putting forward a motion to explore the idea of safe drug consumption site near hospital grounds and to the eight city councillors who voted in favour of same.

There will no doubt be some people who would like to see harm reduction initiatives in B.C. reduced and will say that harm reduction is not working because overdose deaths increased in 2023.   

Here are some facts: In Alberta where they have scaled-down models of harm reduction, there has been an increase in drug related deaths - 18 per cent more in 2023 vs B.C.’s smaller increase of five per cent in 2023. 

Data from other cities and provinces is even more concerning.  

1. San Francisco: In 2022, a safe consumption site was opened but closed after 11 months in favour of increased policing and punishment. The 2023 data shows a 25-per-cent increase in deaths over 2022.

2. Saskatchewan: Transitioning to a "recovery-oriented system of care," Saskatchewan recently announced a reduction in harm reduction services, such as limiting the provision of clean needles. The 2023 statistics reveal a concerning 32 per cent increase in deaths compared to 2022. Additionally, Saskatchewan bears the highest HIV diagnosis rate in Canada, with 19 per 100,000 people.

3. Ontario: Similar to B.C., Ontario provides harm reduction services, including safer supply, alongside treatment and recovery programs. However, their 2023 data shows a 6.8 per cent increase in deaths compared to 2022.

Some residents will and or have said this is a waste of our tax dollars.

Let us check the facts again. One research study indicated that for every $1 spent on harm reduction, $1.30 was saved in the health care system that needs to treat people for HIV and other health conditions associated with substance disorders.

Check out this research paper as one example of cost savings - The Cost Effectiveness of Harm Reduction, Science Direct 2015.

There are also public misconceptions that further perpetuate stigmas, further hindering the rollout of effective harm reduction strategies. As a community, we need to address these misconceptions to foster a more informed and public empathetic discussion.

People also say that addiction is perpetuated by harm reduction strategies. On the contrary, having clean supplies and support, harm reduction not only reduces the spread of infection, but it also allows individuals to get treatment and recovery services.

Limiting the spread of infection does not only help those who use substances, but it helps the general population as well.

I also beg to differ from one of the resident’s comment “They’re not wiling to work or try to work.” Where is your evidence or is it just your opinion, which you are entitled to.

Have you worked with or know people with substance use disorder? I have for decades as a volunteer and continue to be inspired, awed and humbled by their resilience and contribution to eradicate stigma, help advance patient and family centred care in health sectors, etc,. as well as their work as peer support worker/coaches in their lived communities. 

As to parents who are concerned about the safety of their children, have we seen increased crimes against the children in our community? Perhaps, as parents, we should teach our kids to be more compassionate and educate ourselves using evidence-based information instead of fearmongering.

As a community, we should all work towards a more compassionate and embracing response to substance use disorder and the toxic drug supply. People with substance use disorder need our empathy and support not opposition to safe injection sites and other harm reduction strategies. 

Louise Yeoh


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