The first way to deal with a problem is to acknowledge it exists.
At a July 17 event in Houston hosted by the Houston Harm Reduction Committee (HHRC) around 50 community members gathered at the Town’s Senior Centre to discuss perception and stereotypes associated with opioid use in Houston.
The talk was also a chance for participants to discuss how they would like to see their community respond to the crisis.
Participants at the event had the chance to answer three questions: what they thought perception of opioid use in the community was, what stereotypes associated with drug use are and what people would like to see as a community response to the country-wide opioid crisis.
“We really wanted to focus it more on the mental health aspect and just starting the conversation so there’s less stigma and more awareness … we want everyone to feel comfortable talking about it and starting conversations on what’s happening within our community,” said Rebecca Ells, a summer student with Houston’s Link to Learning program that was a co-host of the event.
While opioid overdose is more prevalent on a per capita basis in the Lower Mainland, it is also a significant issue in rural B.C. with its own set of unique challenges.
Ells said that one issue relating to use in the Bulkley Valley is a lack of access to medical infrastructure like hospitals and supervised injection sites.
While Houston has a mental health unit and while Ells said they do a fantastic job, she noted that resources are often stretched very thin.
Ells said another unique challenge to the opioid crisis specific to Houston is stereotypes associated with people who use opioids or the drugs themselves.
“In Houston theres a lot of stereotypes around it and a lot if it is ‘those people up on the hill’,” said Ells, noting that a lot of people associate poorer or “bad” neighbourhoods with drug use.
“There’s a lot of stigma around it — all opioid and drug use and everything bad comes out of that community, [but] it’s not just ‘up on the hill’ — there are people up on the hill that have nothing to do with opioids.”
She said that the purpose of the event was to raise awareness about issues unique to the area and how the community would like to see them addressed.
The HHRC was created last year by Northern Health as a means of finding local solutions to the overdose crisis that fit with the unique challenges to the area.
Dr. Andrew Gray, medical health officer with Northern Health, has previously told Houston Today the committee will seek local solutions to the overdose crisis.
“There’s a provincial strategy, and there’s the strategy that Northern Health has; our health teams in these communities evaluate the situation locally and in most cases set up a committee that [looks] at what needs to be done there, and what priority actions are relevant there,” he explained.
Despite publicly acknowledging that a 50-person event is not going to “solve” a country-wide opioid crisis at the beginning of the event, Ells said that it’s events like this that bring people together and encourage dialogue from people of all walks of life in a community that are the first steps towards finding a solution.
She said that events like this also go a long way in addressing misconceptions about drug use, using the example of a current issue the HHRC has right now: local fightback to a push for community needle deposit boxes.
“People don’t want them anywhere near their communities because they think that it will bring addicts to the community and they are oblivious — or choose to be oblivious — to the fact that there are [already] addicts in the community they are in,” said Ells.
“It doesn’t bring them [in] … it makes it safer.”
Ells said attendee answers from the event will be compiled and analyzed so the most common responses can be formulated into a report which can then be used to gather further data.