It’s been years since Kevin Tierney has had so many reasons to hope.
A 40-year-old Metro Vancouver resident became homeless, in prison, and back homeless as he worked through his addiction to fentanyl and meth.
For the first time, he had a place to call his own: a small apartment provided by the Order of the Phoenix in Surrey, BC, where he had just graduated from substance use therapy.
“For me, this small apartment is everything. It gives me a safe place to lay my head at night and also a safe place to work,” he told Global News.
“I went back to school. I have a plan for my future. I am very excited about the new year and about my new life.”
It has been more than five years since BC declared a public health emergency due to an unprecedented increase in opioid-related deaths.
On Thursday, the BC Coroners Service announced 201 suspects death from poisoning with illegal drugs in October – the deadliest month ever reported in the province.
BC recorded 1,782 suspected illicit drug intoxication deaths between January and October, making 2021 the worst year on record.
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The numbers are “absolutely devastating” for Tierney, who overdosed and needed an ambulance six times in her life and considers herself “very lucky to be alive.”
“When I look around, all I see, in my world, is chaos and death,” he explains. “I lost most of my friends to the fentanyl crisis.”
Tierney said he’s been “clean” for two months now, but the Order of the Phoenix program is unique in that it offers participants a permanent option for later housing. It also means he can stay close to his support network and the people who have helped him recover.
Tierney added, if the BC government is really serious about saving lives, it has to offer more services with a similar model.
“I have completed treatment programs in the past. Some of them were 30 days or 60 days, but then I went back to my community in a state of activity addiction,” he said.
“Basically, I learned a lot during my treatment, when I was just back in my war zone, my chances of success were slim.”
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Phoenix CEO Keir Macdonald called the latest spike in opioid-related deaths “preventable.”
He told Global News that the province is not acting urgently enough to save lives, with waiting times of four to six weeks to access many province-funded programs.
“We are not doing enough to give people hope or a path to a better life or a life worth living,” he said. “People can just take so long, especially if you don’t like it.”
Many people, after completing a drug program, end up in the street while waiting for the next step, he added.
“There is not enough support for that transition. Most of the guys are released with under $500 in their pocket and nowhere to go, and they just end up back on the street,” he said.
“Addiction is not the problem. Addiction is the result of a problem. ”
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Macdonald said Tierney is proof that housing options are critical to the success of treatment programs and an essential part of fighting the opioid crisis.
“We see it at the Phoenix Society every day in stories like Kevin’s, and remarkable transformations can happen when people have access to the support they need when they need it.”
In April, the BC government invested $500 million in addiction and mental health supports. Most recently, funds have been used in Fraser Health for new addiction medicine groups who will provide expertise to hospital patients.
Last month, the province also became the first in Canada to formally ask the federal government to waive penalties for those possessing small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use.
– With files from Richard Zussman
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
https://globalnews.ca/news/8439234/reflections-on-bc-opioid-crisis-record-deaths/ ‘Absolutely devastating’: Recovering users reflect on the worst year of BC’s opioid crisis