Deb McIntosh admits she won’t be staffing the most popular community information table outside Castlegar Safeway next week.
“Some people may see us and turn away,” the community activist and former city councillor says. “But it’s incumbent to us to understand what’s going on, and as citizens of the community we want to make sure all citizens are taken care of.”
The public information table being set up on Wednesday is about addictions and mental health issues — and where people can get help in the community.
It’s all part of International Overdose Awareness Day. That’s officially on Aug. 31, but the Castlegar Fentanyl-Opioid Working Group is setting their booth up a few days early to maximize the public exposure to the situation.
“The more information we can get out there to give people, the better off we’ll be, because right now people don’t talk about it, because there’s stigma behind it,” she says. “And people are dying because of that stigma. And that’s cruel and unfair, and should not be happening.”
Government statistics indeed show the West Kootenay has been affected by the ongoing opioid crisis. While individual community statistics aren’t published for privacy reasons, Interior Health says the Kootenay-Boundary saw a 90 per cent increase between 2016 and 2017 in overdose deaths. In the entire province, 538 people died in the first six months of this year from drug overdoses — 73 of those in the IH area. Fentanyl was detected in more than 80 per cent of those cases.
“People are numb to it,” says McIntosh. “They look at the opioid crisis as something that affects bigger communities. But there are absolutely people in Castlegar who have died from it.”
That’s why she’s setting up this table next Wednesday.
“We want to enlighten some people and let them know that they can reach out for help in a variety of different ways,” she says.
Sitting at the table over the course of the day will be outreach workers like McIntosh, front-line responders like paramedics, community health nurses, and even people living with addiction. There’ll be pamphlets and panel boards and contact information for people looking for help.
“The point of the day is to let people know they can reach out to Mental Health, they can reach out to their doctors,” says McIntosh. “They’re not alone.
“Yes, we know the system is somewhat broken, and we understand it can take a long time to get help. But anything we can do from a community perspective to help that along we will do, and we just want people to be armed with information.”
McIntosh says in the face of the overwhelming problem, she’ll be happy with any sign of progress.
“I’ll consider it a success if one person comes and reaches out to us, and says, ‘Hey, I need help, and I want to be part of the solution.
“We just want people to know that no matter where you are, or who you are, there’s always someone you can turn to for help.”