Representatives from Interior Health and the First Nations Health Authority appeared as a delegation at the Williams Lake City Council Tuesday evening, Dec. 6 in hopes of getting approval to open a mobile overdose prevention site in the city.
Medical health officer Dr. Carol Fenton from Interior Health Authority and other representatives with First Nations Health Authority appeared virtually, while there was also a delegation of local representatives including Charlene Belleau and Joyce Cooper.
Following a presentation on the number of deaths, history of the public health emergency and those most affected by the toxic drug poisoning crisis, Belleau spoke to council.
“I would just like to be able to add behind those numbers are human beings, and for a lot of those numbers, those are our people,” said Belleau, former chief of the Esk’etemc First Nation and former chair of the FNHC.
“We are here today because when we have a funeral home that can’t keep up with burying our people from overdoses we’ve got a problem, we’ve got a problem together.”
Belleau told council they have the support of more than a dozen chiefs in the region who will stand with them if needed, and she apologized to the families of those who recently lost loved ones to the crisis, that there was nothing in place to help them.
In the last few weekends volunteers have set up harm reduction sites in Williams Lake with success.
“We had six people the first night, that’s six people that maybe don’t have to die.”
A public health emergency was first declared in 2016. The province did see a reduction of death rates in the crisis by 2019, however, those gains were lost with the arrival of the pandemic in 2020.
In the Thompson Cariboo region, there have been well over 100 deaths every year for the last three years.
According to the statistics, the number of deaths relative to the population size is very high in the Cariboo Chilcotin - higher than Kamloops or Vancouver. About 70 per cent of those who die from toxic drug poisoning are between the ages of 30-59, and 82 per cent are male. About 14 per cent of overdose victims are First Nations.
The statistics further note that only 12 per cent are homeless, while 85 per cent of all overdose deaths are inside.
Working-aged males working in trades, transport and equipment operators are among the statistics.
The group is seeking approval from council for a mobile overdose prevention site, which they say offers a safe space with support for those who use drugs, either by injection or inhalation.
The delegation noted these sites are often the first place where users may find hope and seek out treatment.
“We need to quit talking and need to take action,” said Belleau.
Joyce Cooper also spoke of the heartache, and mounting losses associated with the overdose crisis. She said staff are dedicated and not afraid of the hard work ahead that’s needed to find solutions.
Council had a number of questions for the delegation before unanimously voting to receive the request to approve a proposal for a mobile overdose prevention site in Williams Lake and refer the matter back to staff for a report to council.