by: Carole Fawcett (

It has been an interesting time writing these pieces for the Vernon Shares project.  I hope when you read them, regardless of your thoughts and beliefs that you will share these stories with others.  If we work together, we can help to create an educated awareness concerning the opioid crisis helping to remove the stigma and being more open to reaching out and helping. We can change the one-sided narrative and start a dialogue with more understanding and compassion.

The blaming and shaming attitude of the “just say no” movement (Nancy Reagan, circa 1986) still prevails. It makes those who use feel even worse than they already do – which may be why they use drugs in the first place, to numb the feelings of unworthiness. 

Almost 1500 people died in BC of an opioid overdose in the past year, according to the BC Government.  232 of those people were in the area that Interior Health covers and in Vernon, there were 24 deaths.  These numbers surpassed vehicle accident deaths and also the deaths of those who contracted AIDS and died in 1991. (at the height of that health crisis) Just as a frame of reference, in 1991 in Canada, 1800 people died of AIDS……..across Canada. So you can see from that comparison of numbers that the deaths from opioid  overdose is very high, as it reflects numbers in British Columbia only.

In Portugal, in 2001 they decriminalized drugs, cocaine, heroin, and other drugs. They decided to treat possession (small amounts) as a public health issue.  The drugs remained illegal, but getting caught with them meant a small fine and a referral to a treatment program. There would be no jail and no criminal record. This decision saved lives and the opioid crisis stabilized. They worked together with the addict and paved the way for the likelihood of success in overcoming the addiction.
This systemic change flowed throughout the country, right down to the average person and people were speaking more respectfully with deeper understanding, of those who had addiction challenges.

It has been proven that the authoritarian approach does not always work, and in fact, can exacerbate the situation. Granted, there have to be some rules and regulations, but they need to be used as guidelines with flexibility built in.
We must remember that those who use drugs are all someone’s child, mother, father, sister, brother or friend. They are human beings who did not purposely choose to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. 
The circumstances of their life created this path, and given that current treatment models have low recovery rates, we must step up and provide the support so that all our citizens can live with dignity and self respect. Perhaps it is time for change.  Let’s trade our judgment for compassion.