This is the first on a series on mental wellness. Let’s begin with the most serious problem facing Canadians today. As of the first of June, there have been 15,393 opioid deaths in Canada since the beginning of 2016. Canada has set aside 300 million dollars as an emergency treatment fund. But is it enough? Most of this will go to the hospitals and health service providers. Considering that there were 21,000 emergency responses for 2019 alone, this money will not stretch very far and very little of it will go to the cause of the problem. Medication will absorb another huge portion. Most of it will go the pharmaceutical companies that produce methadone and other products, again treating the symptoms and not the cause.

A small amount has been set aside for pilot projects including safe injection sights. This is a great idea, but again, we are only treating the symptoms. It is called harm reduction. Forty sites have been approved and they have been busy. They have been visited more than 2.1 million times, and have reversed nearly 16,000 overdoses without a single death at the site. They have made over 74,000 referrals to health and social services. Most of these are charitable organizations that are carrying the load for the rest of us. Considering that we have spent 358 billion for the Covid 19 pandemic, there does seem to be money available. Wouldn’t it be nice if just one of those billions could be spent on the opioid pandemic which has taken more lives than Covid 19 and caused more destruction to families and communities?

So what is the cause that needs to be treated? To answer that question, we should consider why people take such high risk drugs? High risk behavior is often connected to personality and bipolar disorders and depression. We need to be willing as a society to take care of the most vulnerable among us. Mental Health services are grossly underfunded. The workloads for mental health care providers is impossible to manage with the present resources and only a fraction of the people in need actually seek help. We have people who are qualified and ready to step in but there is insufficient funds to pay the salaries. We should not blame the government. We are the government. We have to pressure those in power to do what’s right, and as taxpayers, we have to be willing to foot the bill.

But this isn’t about the money, it’s about the heartache that goes with these deaths. I attended one memorial service and it was heartbreaking. She was a young lady who should not have died. The drug of choice was laced with fentanyl. Her death led directly to another suicide victim and who knows how many more overdoses from her circle of friends. At the basis of it is the realization that these people are willing to take the risk. The possibility of leaving a troubled life by quietly going to sleep and stop breathing can often be quite appealing.

I wrote this poem for her memorial. The name has been changed. I used my granddaughter’s name. The thought of one of my grandchildren falling victim to the opioid pandemic would tear my family apart. It is time we started to think about all these young people like we would about our own family members.

And Yet

There was life in Stella.
She lived life the best way she could,
being the person she was meant to be.
She left a trail of love
in the hearts of those she let into her life.

And yet,
she lived only twenty-two years,
so many years yet to be,
so many years yet to grow, to flourish,
so many opportunities to escape the uncertainty,
to realize the substance of her dreams.

And yet,
we sit here on the edge of tears,
anger seething from just below the threshold
aimed at those who create this poison of the soul,
those who have the ability to provide a kind word
to be a bridge through the fields of uncertainty,
those who choose to put their wallets back in their pockets
and look away when young people die.

And yet,
here we are,
all of us who have cared and shared
what we could, when we could.
And yet, it seems like it was not enough.
We must let go of all that could have been
and hang onto the good of all that was.

And Yet,
we know in our heart of hearts
that love never dies, it must go on,
a vibrant energy created from the force
of compassionate souls.
Together we have the power
to move the parameters of existence
from the chaotic to the doorsteps of eternity.

And yet,
my heart breaks,
as I struggle though my own field of uncertainty.
I have to hang on to what was
and let go of what could have been.

Lawrence J.W. Cooper

Poet Laureate, Comox Valley