Campaign offers hope to drug users amid record breaking overdose deaths

Ahead of a new B.C. Coroners Service report into illicit drug overdose deaths in the province, one organization is highlighting a group that it says is underserved when it comes to treatment and recovery.

Statistics from the coroner show 484 women died of an overdose last year, representing about 20 per cent of 2021’s record-breaking total. While that’s a 45 per cent increase from just two years prior, the Coroners Service said the proportion of overdose victims who are women is roughly steady.

On Wednesday, Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe will release a Death Review Panel Report. It will look at the more than 6,000 deaths in B.C. from August 2017 to the end of July of last year. The coroner is expected to make recommendations that will again focus on the need for access to safer supply.

Many advocates have argued while the province has increased the number of treatment options, immediate action is needed to separate drug users from a poison drug supply.

On International Women’s Day, the Salvation Army is highlighting some of the gaps in services that exist for women.

Christina Petrina is a case worker, and as a recovering addict said she speaks for many others in our communities who may feel unsafe being identified.

“I watch the women come out of detox and go right back to the alley because there’s no treatment for them,” she told CTV News. “And it’s a death sentence these days.”

She believes there are many more readily-available programs for men. Women often face additional barriers because they may have children or other loved ones to care for.

The Salvation Army’s Mike Leland said that means some women may forego care.

“It’s a huge deterrent for women to get help because they don’t want to lose their children,” he explained.

The agency is trying to change that with plans for a new centre, which will have a floor dedicated to treating women and include 22 beds. With a completion date of 2024, it’s not the solution, but a start. Stigma may prove a bigger challenge.

The Salvation Army’s new campaign, “Her Story of Hope,” allows British Columbians to go online to a website with the same name and share encouragement with women living with addiction. The words will be used by a local artist to create an installation in the new building.

Petrina pointed out addiction isn’t a choice, it’s what happens after layers of trauma — and compassion can go a long way towards healing.

“This ‘just say no to drugs,’ or ‘you’re a bad person if you do drugs,’ it’s not working and here we are. People are human they need love, they need compassion and they need to know it’s OK to not be OK.”

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