James Tousignant, executive director of the Cowichan branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, shows what is inside a naloxone kit at an injection stall in the overdose prevention site in Duncan during an open house of the facility on May 8 (Robert Barron/Citizen)

Robert Barron column: It’s time to rattle some cages in Victoria

Cowichan got $66,000 in overdose response funding last year, down by a third from previous year

Did you know that the Cowichan Valley’s Overdose Prevention Site has been averaging 622 visits per week over the past three months?

Apparently, those numbers are the highest of all the OPS sites on Vancouver Island that are in rural and suburban areas.

There’s no doubt that drug addictions, as well as homelessness, which is connected to addictions in a number of ways, have taken a firm hold of our beautiful Cowichan Valley, but there are few programs currently in place that actually try to deal with them head on.

The OPS, which is funded by the province, has so far been very successful in preventing overdoses, but it has no mandate and resources to do much more than that.

Housing and addictions are ultimately the responsibility of senior levels of government, not local ones, and, despite the fact that the problems in the Valley are getting worse, funding for some local programs dealing with these issues has actually dropped off recently, instead of increasing to deal with the growing crisis.

After a public health emergency was declared due to the ongoing opioid crisis in 2016, Community Action Teams were established by the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions in areas of the province most-hard hit by the crisis, including the Valley, to try to help deal with related problems and find solutions.

But the Valley’s CAT received just $66,000 in overdose emergency response funding last year, which is used for a number of initiatives, including needle distribution and recovery programs and projects that aim to reduce the stigma.

Last year’s funding was down considerably from the $100,000 that the Valley’s CAT received the year before.

The letter recently sent to 10 provincial government ministries, including the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, from the Cowichan Leadership Group points out these statistics in its demands for more support from the province to deal with local social issues.

The letter from the CLG, which includes the heads of local governments, school board, MLA Sonia Furstenau, MP Alistair MacGregor, and RCMP and health authorities, also points out some of the increasing difficulties those on the front lines in the Valley are facing.

“At the suggestion of the RCMP, mental health workers are considering hiring security staff to help them move the most aggressive clients off the Warmland shelter’s property,” the letter states.

“But where will they go? The RCMP is inundated with calls for service and is overburdened with the investigative requirements of a judicial system that isn’t able to adequately contain drug offenders.”

The letter goes on to say that the Cowichan region is a perfect representation of how these issues will continue to grow if only “band-aid” solutions continue to be put on the problems.

“We need temporary treatment facilities and outreach-based treatment services,” the letter said.

“We need transitional housing. We need a safe-supply program. We need them now before more tragedies occur, and more local funds are spent on cleaning up and providing security in our neighbourhoods for a problem that has grown beyond our community’s ability to afford.”

The members of the CAT now intend to send individual letters to each of the 10 ministries detailing specifically how they’re being impacted by homelessness and addictions.

Let’s hope this strategy finally rattles some cages in Victoria.


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