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Forum tackles addiction/drug toxicity in qathet region

Keynote speaker says harm reduction and recovery go hand-in-hand

Canada’s government has a drugs and substance strategy called the four pillars approach: prevention, treatment, harm reduction, enforcement (addressing illegal drug production, supply and distribution), which is evidence-based.

For many who live in BC, whether in an urban or rural environment, the toxic drug supply has impacted their communities, and so has addiction. 

qathet Community Action (qCAT) team hosted an event called Community Fentanyl Forum 2023 on October 23, which was originally scheduled to happen more than three years ago. But the COVID-19 pandemic happened, and the forum was put on hold.

“We are all impacted by the toxic drug crisis. Community Fentanyl Forum 2023 aims to bring everyone together within strong, unified community responses that will promote awareness, prevent overdose deaths, and increase safety and security all around,” according to qCAT.

More than 70 community members filled seats at Evergreen Theatre in Powell River Recreation Complex; folks also tuned in via live-stream. 

Keynote speaker and harm reduction educator Guy Felicella is a former drug user who faced homelessness, poverty and criminality, and lived in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) for more than 10 years. He started the evening with a personal presentation about how, although he grew up in a middle-class family, he had an undiagnosed learning disability, an abusive home life and a general lack of coping skills or support from anyone in his life.

To cope, Felicella started using street drugs at a young age. It wasn’t until 2013, when he overdosed again, that he found the help he needed to deal with his trauma and get off drugs.

“Harm reduction and recovery are on the same team,” said Felicella, while addressing the audience. “Human connection and kindness can change the direction of someone’s life.”

He found help from medical professionals such as Dr. Gabor Maté while using harm reduction services in Vancouver.

After the keynote address, a five-person panel convened on stage, which included nurse practitioner Kate Hodgson, registered nurse Misty Bath, City of Powell River councillor Rob Southcott, Dr. Geoff Bardwell and moderator Davis McKenzie.

The multi-platform event included questions sent by forum participants using the Menti app. Folks from the audience also had a chance to ask the panelists questions.

Southcott talked about his time working as a paramedic in Vancouver’s DTES, and said he supports the work being done to address toxic drug deaths and overdoses in the qathet region. He believes that compared to other rural jurisdictions, qathet has a great team of people, working from the ground up, as opposed to working “top down” on solutions.

The panel’s overall consensus was that harm reduction and addiction services need to be fluid, flexible and available for those who need it. Bath said the province has stepped up with 95 new beds allocated for recovery in BC.

Hodgson said, “what we need more of is innovation. Like any other medical condition, for example, renal care, the person being treated should move smoothly through care.”

Since April of this year, there has not been a reported death in the qathet region due to toxic drugs, according to the community action team.

“Fighting about the right approach is crushing the people we are trying to protect,” said Felicella. “The reality is we need both harm reduction and recovery.”

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