YESTERDAY, at the Kamloops City Council meeting, Kamloops’ top cop said it’s time to think of having a safe supply of opioids for drug users.
Kamloops RCMP Supt. Syd Lecky isn’t saying anything new. Harm reduction advocates have been pushing for a safe supply of drugs for years.
Prior to the opioid crisis, two to 10 people died of overdoses each year in Kamloops. In 2020, Kamloops set a record high of overdose deaths of 60. The previous high was 48 overdose deaths in 2018.
Thinking that safe supply will mean more drug use ignores how important a safe supply is for alcohol users.
Back in 1920, the United States imposed prohibition of alcohol. Excessive alcohol use was linked to alcoholism, and family violence. Prohibition was seen as the solution.
What followed was the immediate involvement of organized crime to provide an illegal source of alcohol. Bootleg alcohol was created from denatured alcohol, whose original intent was for industrial purposes.
The industrial alcohol was deliberately altered to make it undrinkable, often with poison. But that didn’t stop bootleggers from using it to create alcohol for drinkers.
By the end of prohibition, it has been estimated that 10,000 people died from poisoning from drinking the bootleg, tainted alcohol.
People didn’t stop drinking because alcohol was illegal, and they didn’t stop drinking even when people were dying from drinking.
Fast forward 100 years, and things aren’t much different. Opioids are illegal. Tainted opioids are killing people. People are still using drugs.
Whether alcohol or opioids, people will take risks but risks can be managed.
Anyone who operates a bar will tell you that selling alcohol is one of the most regulated businesses there is. There are rules for how much alcohol can be served to a client, the age of clients, and hours of operations.
The bar operator has to provide a criminal records check. There are ongoing inspections by the liquor inspector.
As onerous as the rules are for selling alcohol, the purpose is to keep clients relatively safe. Consuming alcohol has risks. Managing the risks, rather than prohibiting them are the goals of the liquor regulations.
There are people who want to use drugs. Those people aren’t going to stop simply because drugs are illegal or because there is a tainted supply of drugs. We know that: too many have died already.
One solution is an opioid dispensing machine. Vancouver and Victoria have the machines, which allow people to access safe drugs by swiping their palm on a biometric reader. Controlled. Regulated. Safer.
I’m glad Supt. Syd Lecky stated the obvious, that Kamloops needs a safe supply of opioids for people who use drugs. Now it’s time for action. There are solutions for providing safe supply, such as the vending machine.
It’s time for Kamloops City council to take the next step and push the provincial government and Interior Health to install a vending machine here too.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.