by Trevor J. Lapointe
The ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted various groups over the course of the last 15 months has shone a light on some grave disparities in Canada. Two glaring examples are Long Term Care as well as predominantly racialized and impoverished communities. It is here where we have been faced with the stark reality that gaps in services, lack of proper funding, negligent policy response, and what can only be described as a lack of ethical care from those in positions of governance, led to an onslaught of preventable illness and death. That said, there remains one group equally ravaged by this pandemic, not only in terms of the dangers associated with the virus, but by the reverberating negative impacts on safety in general; that is people who use drugs. For reasons associated with the burden of stigma, moral posturing and/or a complete lack of understanding, this community has yet again been silenced and forgotten with their experiences and needs diminished and devalued.
The Canadian Centre on Substance use and Addiction (CCSA) has worked closely with this community and published many of the key effects in their latest ‘What we Heard’ Report.
The data was collected over the course of 2020 as the pandemic left an indelible mark on this community. Now, with vaccines rolling out prolifically, and most folks looking only ahead with the hopes of putting this nightmare behind them, people who use drugs continue to suffer. Deaths, particularly from opioid poisonings, continue to maintain their highest numbers on record ever and policy response continues to lag.
Of course, it is by no means due to a lack of being informed. Last November, The Ontario Drug Policy Research Network published their own report and noted clearly in their summary of findings that – “In the first 15 weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario, 695 people died of a confirmed or suspected opioid related death, representing a 38% increase compared to the 15 weeks immediately preceding the pandemic.” (Preliminary Patterns in Circumstances Surrounding Opioid-Related Deaths in Ontario during the COVID-19 Pandemic, Nov 2020)
These numbers are more than alarming and should create public outrage similar to revelations surrounding Long Term Care, however, these lives lost seem to garner less media attention and less public concern. This is unfortunate, as the challenges faced by people who use drugs impact all Canadians in myriad ways.
Statistics and government research reports, while helpful in outlining the realties of the post-COVID opioid crises, often lose meaning, stripped from attachment to real human life and loss. With the permission of the CCSA we have published this report in hopes that key messages expressed by respondents will act as a vehicle for change around desperately needed drug policy reform.
Trevor J. Lapointe works in Public Policy Development. He is also a Musician, visual Artist and freelance Writer