Written by Youeal Abera, Peak Associate
Since April 14, 2016, BC has been in a health emergency. The number of individuals overdosing on fentanyl has drastically increased — in 2017 alone, from January to July, 876 individuals died from fentanyl. In this time frame, 26,376 naloxone kits were distributed at 588 various sites in the province. Since the beginning of 2016, the numbers of deaths at the hand of fentanyl have increased by 81%.
We have a a literal matter of ‘life and death’ on our hands. We all know it. So what can we do?
BC’s government has been administering money and attention to the problem. However, our collective community of citizens must take it upon themselves to develop and uphold the social responsibilities required to discourage fentanyl use. Or, in short: be cautious about drug use. Put your potential embarrassment about drug caution in the backseat and prioritize health and well-being — for yourself and for those around you.
I know this embarrassment all too well, though it expresses itself a little differently in my case. I choose not to take drugs at all, and I experience implicit judgement from friends and strangers alike every time this comes up. When I inform them that I, a 23-year-old Black male, have never partaken in the recreational use of drugs, it shocks and dismays them. Most likely due to false depictions in media, I’m expected to not only have dabbled with drug use, but to even have become well-versed in such an activity.
Therefore, when it is discovered that I choose never to engage in drug intake, now or ever, I am often informed by individuals that I must somehow not truly be ‘as Black’ as I believe, as if my identity is intrinsically connected to my involvement with recreational drug use.
Some precautions go without saying. If you are at a party and are offered an unidentified drug, don’t take it. Even if you think you know what you’re taking, fentanyl and other contaminants could easily be slipped in, so don’t use alone; surround yourself with friends who know what you’ve ingested, and who will be in a position to help if things go wrong.
However, more than that, we must also be willing to discourage our friends from partaking in dangerous usage practices where possible. Don’t feel apprehensive about diverting people from receiving drugs from strangers. Don’t pop pills when it’s only out of the fear of being an outcast or belittled, or when it’s out of desperation to relieve your stresses and fears, and make sure those around you know that they don’t have to submit to that fear either.
Experiencing the embarrassment that comes with not partaking in dangerous substance use is difficult and uncomfortable. However, what has always kept me in check is remembering the disappointment I’d feel from allowing others to drive me to do something I don’t want to do. That disappointment is significantly more intolerable and longer-lasting than a few seconds of discomposure. My self-imposed values and commitments take precedence over the opinions of others.
The greatest method to combat both the pressures and dangers of opioids and pills: conversation. If you are tempted to use these drugs to relieve the stresses and traumas that haunt you, ask the big questions. See if there are any healthier, less risky, and more sustainable alternative solutions. Seek valid information on what these drugs could do to your body, and how dangerous they can be to your livelihood.
Moreover, if you even have slight suspicions that someone you know is using such pills or opioids, and it’s becoming a danger to them, don’t be too afraid or hesitant to approach them. Avoid being invasive, accusatory, or judging; speak out of a place of concern, compassion, and love.
If we were to all maintain these precautions regarding experimentation with opioids and pills, then we would inevitably come closer to rendering the dangers of fentanyl obsolete. If we truly want to put an end to the fentanyl crisis, we must not leave it entirely to the leadership of our province.