Agencies responsible for public safety, health, children and youth, and governance in Delta are joining together to host a forum on the impacts of the toxic drug supply in the community next week.
The End the Stigma Community Forum — happening Wednesday, April 13 at North Delta Secondary School (11447 82nd Ave.) — is a collaboration between the City of Delta, Delta Police Department, Tsawwassen First Nation, Delta School District, Fraser Health, and Delta Fire and Emergency Services aimed at giving community members an opportunity to hear from leaders and advocates on the stigma of drug use and what needs to be done to stop the growing number of overdose deaths.
An estimated 2,224 British Columbians died from toxic drug poisonings in 2021 — an average of six deaths per day — marking the worst year in the province’s history in the ongoing overdose crisis. In Delta, BC Emergency Health Services responded to 219 overdose calls last year, and 20 people died due to toxic drug poisonings.
“Substance use has impacted so many people and families in Delta. It is clear that we need community-oriented solutions to help save more lives,” Mayor George Harvie said in a press release.
“This community forum is a joint effort by agencies across Delta to tackle this issue and reduce the stigma around substance use. I am looking forward to hearing from the inspiring speakers on what we as Deltans can do, together, to help end the stigma and make it easier for people to access support and treatment.”
Among the event’s featured speakers will Dr. Maulik Baxi, a medical health officer with Fraser Health. Dr. Baxi will be speaking on the negative effects stigma has on health and substance use, and the positive effects of social connection. He will also offer ways people can help to end stigma and talk about the positive effect harm reduction has in stabilizing health in individuals, communities and the health-care system overall.
“So many families and friends are grieving the loss of a loved one, due to the ongoing contamination of the illicit drug supply,” Dr. Baxi said in a press release. “People who use substances in Delta, or anywhere else, are not defined by their drug use. We need to be aware of our biases and behaviours, which can be influenced by stereotypes, negative stories, and images of people who use drugs.”
Also speaking at the event will be Curtis Joe, a 2013 Courage to Come Back Award recipient who has overcome abuse as a child, a traumatic experience in foster care and a violent criminal past. He struggled to find employment for 14 years but continued to take courses, and now helps mentor youths at the Delta School District. Joe will be speaking about stigma and how it has impacted his family.
The third featured speaker will be Guy Felicella, a peer clinical advisor and 2021 Courage to Come Back Award recipient who began self-medicating with drugs at age 12 to deal with his anxiety and depression, leading to a 30-year cycle of addiction, homelessness, crime, jail and gang involvement. Felicella is now a passionate advocate who joins other British Columbians who are heartbroken, frustrated and angry over the unfathomable loss that continues today — just in January of this year, at least 207 people in the province were killed by toxic drugs.
Harvie will be providing opening remarks, while DPD Deputy Chief Harj Sidhu will act as MC and facilitate a panel discussion and Q-and-A session with Katie Alexander, manager of health and social services at the Tsawwassen First Nation; Kirsten Hermanson, manager of prevention and wellness with the Delta School District; and Kam Singh, a substance use counselor with Mukti Society. (Singh will be able to answer questions in Punjabi.)
The event opens at 5:30 p.m. with exhibitors who provide crisis, addiction, and counselling services in Delta, including Little House Society, Deltassist, Fraser Health and the Lookout Society, on site until 6:30 p.m. Featured speakers, panel forum and Q-and-A will run from 6:30 to 8 p.m., with naloxone training available from 8 to 8:30 p.m.
The End the Stigma community forum is free to attend but guests are asked to pre-register at letstalk.delta.ca/endthestigma.
The End the Stigma campaign was launched by the City of Delta and its partners in March of 2021. As part of the campaign, the city is encouraging community members to share their stories and help end the stigma surrounding substance use.
“We are inviting you to use the power of storytelling to share your experiences with substance use, harm reduction supports, treatments and recovery. Sharing your story can be a step forward in your own personal healing, and it can also empower others who are affected by substance use,” the city said said last month.
Stories can be submitted online at letstalk.delta.ca/endthestigma/survey_tools/shareyourstory.
The city is offering free counselling sessions for Delta residents struggling with substance use and their loved ones. To book a session with a registered counsellor, call 778-522-5160.
— with files from Ashley Wadhwani