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Vancouver Island officials walk in the footsteps of our burgeoning drug crisis

Comox Valley Art Gallery exercise tackles toxic drug crisis by bringing officials to the streets
Some of the Nov. 28 Walk With Me participants, from left: Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells, Comox Coun. Ken Grant, Comox Mayor Russ Arnott, Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird, Cumberland Coun. Jesse Ketler and Walk With Me team member Sam Franey. Scott Stanfield photo

It’s one thing to debate B.C.’s drug crisis around a board table. It’s another to walk a mile in the shoes of the people who are living it.

A number of Comox Valley politicians took part in a exercise this weekend that illustrates the devastating effects of the toxic drug poisoning crisis, Sunday, Nov. 28 at the .

Dubbed Walk With Me, politicians and other participants gathered to listen to stories from individuals with lived and living experience as they walked through Courtenay streets and alleyways.

READ: Community Groups collaborate to address substance use in the Comox Valley

Hosted by the Comox Valley Art Gallery, the Nov. 28 walk was followed by a sharing circle at the CVAG plaza, where participants could reflect on the stories, and discuss the recommendations in reports from Walk With Me, and from the Community Substance Use Strategy Committee. These include the decriminalization of simple possession, and the rollout of a safe supply.

“We need more restorative justice measures, rather than putting people into a jail cell, where they’re now going into withdrawal,” Courtenay Coun. Wendy Morin said. “They’re extremely sick. They don’t get their medicine in jail. And the safe supply, unfortunately, is not really meeting the need. The prescriptions are not at the level that people need to replace what they were using, and there’s all kinds of issues with that. So I think continued advocacy is huge.”

The exercise hit home for Morin, who is thankful for her naloxone training because she has needed to administer the medication to someone close.

“This touches all of us,” Morin said of the drug crisis. “The stigma is huge…There are so many things we can do.”

Statistics from the BC Coroners Service show the crisis is worsening. In 2020, 13 people in the Comox Valley died from toxic drugs. In the first five months of 2021, 14 people had died. Tobacco-related deaths have also been steadily increasing in the Valley.

Christopher Hauschildt, who has experienced homelessness and mental health issues, said countries such as Sweden and Portugal have subsidized treatments and rehabilitation, while solutions in Canada are privatized.

“While we wait and while we flounder around, people are dying,” he said.

“We need to take this very seriously,” added outreach worker Galen Rigter, a Walk With Me team member. “I can’t sit back and watch more people die. All this is preventable.”

The Substance Use Strategy Phase One Report lays the foundation and considers desired changes for the community.

“It’s really getting us on the same page to move forward together,” said Lindsay McGinn, facilitator of the Comox Valley Community Health Network.

Phase two of the strategy will aim to address gaps, barriers and opportunities in the delivery of substance use services.

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