Opinion: Kelowna in need of politicians to tackle drug crisis

Jul 6, 2022

A recent opinion article published in Lake Country Calendar and authored by Jacqueline Gelineau discussed the urgent need to take more measures in order to manage the growing opioid crisis in Kelowna. According to some local experts and policymakers, the local politicians are not doing enough to reduce harm.

“We need great politicians who are willing to save lives,” said Dr. Zachary Walsh, clinical psychologist, and professor at the UBC Okanagan campus. Dr. Walsh added that having a prescribed safe supply program in Kelowna and the legalization of drugs would prevent “devastating” accidental overdoses from the “poisoned drug supply.” Since 2020, prescribed safe supply programs have been created through the Risk Mitigation Guidance program in cities across B.C. including Vancouver, Vernon, Penticton and Kamloops. However, this program has not yet been expanded to Kelowna.

According to a statement released by B.C. Interior Health, a fentanyl patch program is being developed in Kelowna. However, Dr. Walsh noted that more efforts need to be made, and that the existing drug testing sites in Kelowna are not enough to prevent deadly overdoses. In his interview with Lake Country Calendar, he said that is imperative that Kelowna provides access to safe drugs for people experiencing substance use disorder and the opportunity for treatment for those looking for help.

Furthermore, Carmen Rempel, executive director at the Kelowna Gospel Mission, added that rapid access to withdrawal management and treatment are necessary, but are often unavailable for Kelowna residents.

Remple added that in Kelowna, people are required to wait for days, weeks, or even months before there is an opening at an appropriate treatment centre or clinic. She also noted that when someone has a “moment of readiness” to stop or reduce their drug use, and if resources for withdrawal support and counselling are not available when a person feels ready to seek help, they may not have that feeling of readiness again. Moreover, Dr. Walsh noted that the cost of harm reduction strategies, “pale in comparison to what we are paying for now.”