Another week has gone by.
The world hasn’t stood still for a minute, though we are still living rather restricted lives.
Who would ever have guessed three months ago that we would experience social and economic upheaval of the magnitude of the COVID pandemic?
Who would have guessed three weeks ago the immense public impact of blatant racial inequality in our country and around the world?
Who would have guessed until last week how extreme the opioid crisis in our province would become in the midst of the pandemic?
These two other viruses — racial inequality and the vulnerability of individuals with addictions — are right up there alongside the physical virus we have been learning to live with (hopefully live without) for three months.
When the pandemic struck, it recognized no political or geographic borders. It went everywhere. We have been saying, “We’re in this together,” as if we have all been affected in the same way, and to the same degree.
The pandemic has been extremely costly economically, socially and in terms of increased mental-health challenges. Sadly, these pandemic costs have been borne disproportionately by the poor, the elderly, racial minorities and many marginalized groups (including those who are homeless, and those who are addicted to drugs) around the world.
This sad fact was brought to our attention last week by Dr. Bonnie Henry, our provincial health officer, who revealed the number of deaths by opioid overdoses in May 2020, which totalled 170, was greater than the number of COVID deaths to date in the province. This was the highest number of opioid overdose deaths ever recorded for a single month in provincial history.
This tragedy has everything to do with the pandemic.
Access to supervised consumption sites, overdose prevention sites and drug-checking services were drastically limited at the start of the pandemic. Places of solace, such as churches and mental health clubhouses, were locked down. Many drug users have died in total isolation because of the distancing required to stop the spread of the disease.
With the regular supply chains for safe drugs cut off, the illegal drug supply has become even more contaminated, lethal and expensive. More than 80 per cent of overdose deaths in May involved fentanyl-based products purchased on the street.
These heartbreaking situations have come to be called the “unexpected consequences” of the pandemic. So, too, are the realities of heightened anxiety, depression, and, in the near future if not now, post-traumatic stress disorder.
There’s much more to the COVID pandemic than its direct effects, which are substantial. It will take a vaccine to successfully eradicate the disease. What will it take to defeat these unexpected consequences?
Nan Dickie is an author, speaker and former facilitator of a depression support group in Salmon Arm.