Complacency is never the right response

Opioid drug use might be more common, but we should never let the tragedy of addiction become commonplace.

There’s that story about a frog in a pot of water: the temperature of the water is increased so slowly that the frog doesn’t know what’s happening until it’s too late.

It’s a grim little allegory, but one I couldn’t help thinking about after chatting with a former co-worker on the weekend.

She was asking about the impact of the opioid crisis on Chilliwack. She said she had heard it had grown much worse since she left.

I tried to allay her concerns, but quickly found I couldn’t even convince myself. This daily reality has turned the unusual into the ordinary. What might have seemed shocking before is now sadly familiar.

It was only a couple of years ago that a discarded needle in our parking lot was so unique I photographed it.

Since then, needles abound – not just around my workplace, but throughout the community. They are the telltales of a larger problem that has gripped all of North America.

Hardly a day passes where we don’t read something about the proliferation of narcotics that kill three to four people a day in B.C. In fact, so common are these stories it takes something particularly tragic – like the recent overdose death of a teenager in Victoria – to shake us.

But what a frightening thought: that the drip, drip, drip of statistics eventually makes us deaf to the waves of stories behind those numbers.

An incident outside our office a couple weeks ago got me thinking.

Four people hunkered down in the alley next to our office. As we watched from the window above, they began sorting through what was likely stolen merchandise. (Who carries around several unopened packages of dryer beads?)

Then they did something else. The couple on the end shared a crack pipe. The man in the middle injected a needle into his arm. And the person on the right…, well that took me a while to figure out. At first, I thought he was looking at himself in the broken mirror he pulled from his pack. However, after watching the video (yes, I shot video; I’m a journalist), I realized he was using the mirror to locate a vein in his neck to inject the syringe he held in his other hand.

It was a sad tableau.

But it was made sadder by my initial jaded reaction.

Obviously, the water in the pot was getting warmer.

Complacency is a dangerous thing because it leads to acceptance. And the tragedy of someone injecting street drugs into their neck on a sunny afternoon in an alley outside your office window should never become the ordinary.

Sure, there are those who have lost all patience with the addicted. Their anger is understandable, given the tangential impacts of crime and homelessness.

But anger won’t fix the problem. Action will – action like a new 46-unit supportive housing project which moved closer to reality in Chilliwack this week. Or the new temporary modular shelter units opening at the Salvation Army. Or the addictions treatment facility for youth that Fraser Health will build in Chilliwack next year.

These are important steps that would never happen if we let our desire for change be dulled by apathy and acceptance.

Greg Knill is editor of the Chilliwack Progress

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