No street drug is safe, not even marijuana.
That was the message driven home by a multi-agency panel who gave up their Thursday night to speak at a public forum about the dangers of street drugs laced with fentanyl.
“There’s always been this belief that marijuana is safe but that’s just not true. Fentanyl is being found in everything,” said Kelly Culbert, a representative for the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFSD).
It was an intimate setting at city hall where the 30 or so members of the public got a close look at what Williams Lake’s frontline workers are doing to raise awareness about the sharp increase in fentanyl-related overdoses and deaths, which prompted the province to declare a public health crisis in April.
So far 488 people have died in the province due to drug overdoses, while more than 2,100 naloxone kits have reportedly been used to reverse affects of an overdose.
In Williams Lake, there have been seven overdoses reported in the last seven weeks, and one possible overdose death in the past year.
“This has been a labour of love,” said Jordan Davis, the Boys and Girls Club of Williams Lake and District (BGWL) harm reduction co-ordinator, of the unique multi-agency collaboration between the BGWL, MCFD and Williams Lake RCMP which has been spreading the word to students throughout the school district.
“We know that offering naloxone is a band-aid solution, and doesn’t address other underlying issues, but at this point we just want to keep people safe. We do not want people dying of an overdose.”
Staff Sgt. Del Byron echoed Davis’ sentiments.
“We are doing everything we can to protect our community from this,” Byron told the audience. “We are taking a proactive approach through education (by talking at local schools) and an enforcement role by targeting crack shacks and dealers.”
Byron said the RCMP do not want anyone experiencing an overdose to hesitate calling 9-1-1 for help.
“We don’t want people to be afraid to call the police because if you are overdosing you need medical attention … this is a medical problem. We want to help.”
Even after naloxone has been administered to someone who has overdosed, he said the person needs to go to hospital as they can relapse and die when the immediate affects of the treatment wear off.
Community Safety manager Dave Dickson used the opportunity to speak of several other multi-agency groups working to keep communities safe and to help reach those living high risk lifestyles.
“Our goal is to make our community safer,” said Dickson. “We have a great community, we really do. There are about 100 (repeat offenders) who give us a bad name but that doesn’t reflect what our community is really about.”
Dickson listed no fewer than ten professional working groups in Williams Lake that team up on everything from restorative justice, to domestic violence, mental health, prolific offenders, homelessness, troubled youth and youth at risk.
Those in attendance at the meeting also got a brief preview of another partnership that will see RCMP Const. Sharon Peters and BGWL Davis enter the schools to talk to students as part of the Human Trafficking Prevention Project.
Peters spoke of how easy it is for online predators to target vulnerable girls and lead them into a life of prostitution. She is hopeful the project will build relationships with local students and allow for conversations around sexting, peer exploitation and recognizing the signs of recruitment.
Also on hand for the forum, Insp. Jeff Pelley said he was very proud of the work his staff was doing in the community and thanked the audience for also actively participating in the discussion around fentanyl to assist in keeping the community safe.
It was expected that all RCMP officers in Williams Lake would be receiving two doses of naloxone each, in the form of nasal spray, and training on how to use it should they encounter an overdose victim or if a member is exposed to the deadly substance through their work.
The forum was sponsored by the Williams Lake Tribune/Weekend Advisor and The Goat Cariboo Radio.