After a tragic year in 2021, Revelstoke has had no deaths caused by toxic illicit drugs in 2022.
In 2021, the death rate in Revelstoke for toxic illicit drug deaths was 42.6 out of 100,000, according to a report from British Columbia Coroners Service. The rate is more startling out of context. Given Revelstoke’s smaller population, the rate misrepresents the number of deaths in the area.
At the outset of B.C.’s opioid crisis, in 2016, Revelstoke saw six overdose deaths, and another three in March 2020, landing the city temporarily on the list of cities with the highest per capita rate of overdose deaths in the province.
Still, deaths from toxic illicit drugs are preventable and Erin Maclachlan, co-director of community outreach and development, and the rest of Community Connections offer services to help mitigate toxic drug deaths.
As rural communities go, Revelstoke has among the lowest number of deaths in British Columbia caused by toxic drugs.
An illicit drug is one that is illegal to possess, to take, and to make. Maclachlan explained that when there’s a divide between legal and illegal drugs, like there is in Canada, the illicit drugs become unsafe –even toxic– because there’s no regulation.
This means that the illicit drugs can be mixed with anything that the people who make them decide. Lately, fentanyl has been the most common drug added to the mix.
“They’re very addictive substances. And so, people want return customers. So, the more –and the stronger the substance– the ‘better’ the high, and the better chance people will continue to use them,” said Maclachlan.
Fentanyl isn’t just included in the stereotyped drugs that people may be accustomed to hearing about.
“It’s not just added to opiates. It’s also added to cocaine, or crack, and sometimes even marijuana, MDMA, other party drugs. It’s showing up in lots of different things and causing death,” said Maclachlan.
Maclachlan recommended that anyone using drugs should test their drugs. Community Connections has testing kits that are free to use. They also have safe injection supplies, inhalation kits, and naloxone kits. Naloxone is a life-saving drug that can be administered to someone overdosing because of opiates to prevent them from dying.
The supplies and services offered by Maclachlan and her team at Community Connections are a great start, but Maclachlan said there’s still more that can be done in the community to prevent toxic drug deaths.
“To me, the best thing would be to have a safe injection site that has a has proper drug testing facilities,” said Maclachlan.
To test drugs in Revelstoke now, users have to hand over a portion of their drugs, which is sent to interior health for testing. It’s a longer and slower process that could be made more efficient with a facility in the town.
Another important step, said Maclachlan, was to reduce the stigma within the community.
“No one wants to see somebody shooting up heroin on the street. But the lack of visibility also comes with sort of a lack of consideration,” said Maclachlan, adding “they don’t think people are dying. And they don’t think that they need to be worried about the drugs that they’re taking on the weekend.”
Community Connections try to be a harm reduction presence in Revelstoke. With talks, training, and distributing naloxone kits, they are trying to increase the conversation around the illicit toxic drugs in the town.
Look for Community Connection’s harm reduction booth at the city’s upcoming LUNA fest. They will have testing kits available and can answer questions you may have.