Jovonne Johnson, executive director of Risebridge, left, Amber McGrath, Nanaimo resident and advocate, and Ann Livingston, drug user advocate, participate in a break-out session Thursday, June 16, at the Getting to Tomorrow: Ending the Overdose Crisis project conference at the Best Western Dorchester Hotel. (Mandy Moraes/News Bulletin

Jovonne Johnson, executive director of Risebridge, left, Amber McGrath, Nanaimo resident and advocate, and Ann Livingston, drug user advocate, participate in a break-out session Thursday, June 16, at the Getting to Tomorrow: Ending the Overdose Crisis project conference at the Best Western Dorchester Hotel. (Mandy Moraes/News Bulletin

Drug policy group hosts public dialogue on the overdose crisis in Nanaimo

Getting to Tomorrow: Ending the Overdose Crisis conference was held downtown June 16-17

Community members and advocates gathered in Nanaimo last week to discuss possible solutions to address the effects of the overdose crisis in the city and beyond.

The Getting to Tomorrow: Ending the Overdose Crisis project, as organized by the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, held a conference at the Best Western Dorchester Hotel on June 16-17.

According to a press release, those who attended in Nanaimo included people who use drugs, people in recovery, youths, families, health professionals, provincial and municipal representatives, and First Nations, Inuit and Métis organizations.

The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition is a national network of organizations, supported by Health Canada, working toward public health and human rights-based policies with community partners.

“The goal of the project is to work with communities around the country, to take time to have a bit of a deeper dive into those particular drug policy issues that are important to that particular community,” said Shane Calder, a drug policy advocate for the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. “Nanaimo, for example, didn’t want to talk about decriminalization or safe supply. They identified issues that were their own.”

He identified housing issues, public safety and stigma reduction as main areas of discussion.

According to Calder, the Nanaimo conference was the coalition’s only in-person session out of 18 public health discussions planned for the project.

“There is just no end to the desire to talk about this stuff. Especially now with this new decriminalization pilot project, the part of the provincial and federal governments here in B.C. – it’s stoked more conversation,” he said. “The hosts felt it would be more productive if we talked about what can the community do together to advance a more compassionate and caring community. A majority of overdose deaths happen in private residences. So certainly supported housing, robust support housing – so not just in terms of income, but you really need those kind of programmatic supports. Once people get stabilized into housing, people need something to do – a purpose. So I would say most of our conversations spoke to that.”

During a break-out session at the conference on June 16, Amber McGrath, a Nanaimo resident and advocate, discussed her history of drug use and experiences, and what she thought might work for the community.

“I think definitely setting in place a safe supply, like through a pharmacy, like in Victoria … I just think Nanaimo should try to work a little better with what’s working in other communities,” she said. “Addiction is not just the substance, it’s also the habit.”

Sarah Lovegrove, a harm reduction educator and community advocate and a former Nanaimo Regional General Hospital ER nurse, presented an overview on the current situation in the city. She identified some of the challenges and resiliency of the community, as well as related statistics and figures.

“In terms of a hopeful Nanaimo, for me, every person who wants to go to treatment shouldn’t have to Google it [themselves] and isn’t asked to pay $30,000, or that it doesn’t take six weeks to get in,” said Lovegrove. “My hope for Nanaimo is that this war, this tension between the symptoms and the really ugly interactions that are happening on our streets all over the place, that we can step back from that and begin to look at the deeper challenges. [Users] are the symptoms of the problem that we have to address.”

“It’s never been a war on drugs, it’s been a war on drug users,” agreed McGrath.

The Getting to Tomorrow project officially ends March 31, 2023, with three or four more online sessions planned for this fall.

READ MORE: Nanaimo city council asked to seek decriminalization of personal drug possession


mandy.moraes@nanaimobulletin.com

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Jovonne Johnson, executive director of Risebridge, left, Amber McGrath, Nanaimo resident and advocate, Ann Livingston, drug user advocate, Shane Calder, drug policy advocate for the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, Sarah Lovegrove, harm reduction educator, and Sheila Malcolmson, B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, talk during a break-out session Thursday, June 16, at the Getting to Tomorrow: Ending the Overdose Crisis project conference at the Best Western Dorchester Hotel. (Mandy Moraes/News Bulletin)

Jovonne Johnson, executive director of Risebridge, left, Amber McGrath, Nanaimo resident and advocate, Ann Livingston, drug user advocate, Shane Calder, drug policy advocate for the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, Sarah Lovegrove, harm reduction educator, and Sheila Malcolmson, B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, talk during a break-out session Thursday, June 16, at the Getting to Tomorrow: Ending the Overdose Crisis project conference at the Best Western Dorchester Hotel. (Mandy Moraes/News Bulletin)

Sarah Lovegrove, harm reduction educator, left, and Sheila Malcolmson, Nanaimo’s MLA and B.C.’s minister of mental health and addictions, speak during a break-out session at the conference. (Mandy Moraes/News Bulletin)

Sarah Lovegrove, harm reduction educator, left, and Sheila Malcolmson, Nanaimo’s MLA and B.C.’s minister of mental health and addictions, speak during a break-out session at the conference. (Mandy Moraes/News Bulletin)