By Letter to the Editor on May 1, 2021.
Recently the Alberta government released the Alberta Substance Use Surveillance Data for the months of January and February 2021. Of what should be great concern to the citizens of Medicine Hat is the increase in deaths due to overdose.
In 2016, the province started collecting data related to substance use deaths. In that year, our city had a rating of 11.8 per 100,000 population. As of the end of Feb. 2021, our rate has increased to a staggering 51.7. Of all the municipalities in the province, Medicine Hat is ‘honoured’ to have the highest increase. Of this increase, 77.3 deaths were males and 22.7 were female. The age range with the most deaths is 35-39.
We are losing our loved ones, children are losing their parents and for the first time in four decades, life expectancy is decreasing. We lose three citizens a day in this province. The government and the citizens of this city spoke loudly and we subsequently do not have a supervised consumption site.
Across the province, harm reduction services are being defunded and scaled back. The province is supportive of treatment and recovery however we need to keep our citizens alive long enough for them to enter treatment.
Dead people don’t recover.
Obviously something different needs to happen. Should we continue to rely on the criminal justice system to help at a cost of $4.8 billion dollars per year in Canada? Should we investigate decriminalization and legalization as other parts of the world have done successfully? A precursor to substance use disorder (SUD) is trauma and pain. Do we increase mental health supports? Do we turn the other way hoping our family will not be affected? Unfortunately, if we continue with the status quo, more and more of us will have our lives forever changed by a preventable death.
No human is redundant. We can no longer continue to watch our loved ones die.
In the words of Lao Tzu “If you do not change direction, you might end up where you are heading.”