EDITORIAL: B.C. is awash in opioids while panels search for solutions

EDITORIAL: B.C. is awash in opioids while panels search for solutions

The impact of the opioid crises can be seen with disturbing clarity on any day in Surrey.

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 – not just in Surrey, but 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.

But those deaths are only part of the story. For every overdose, there are thousands of people whose lives are at risk because of their addiction.

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.

In the meantime, paramedics and other first responders in Surrey continue to struggle with this over-saturation of opioids – made even worse by the corruption of fentanyl, and a tacit prejudice of our society against victims of what is perceived as self-inflicted injury.

We can no longer afford to ignore that the overuse of opioids is a symptom of a disease afflicting that same society – a disease that long ago reached epidemic proportions. And just like any other epidemic threatening the health of our nation, it needs, not moralizing or extended study, but leadership and action – now.