British Columbia

Drug users ashamed and afraid to seek help, aiding fentanyl crisis

Dr. Jane Buxton with the B.C.'s Centre for Disease Control says the stigma around drug use is contributing to the fentanyl epidemic by preventing drug users from seeking help.

Dr. Jane Buxton with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control says drug users need to be treated with compassion

Dr. Jane Buxton with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control says that the stigma surrounding addictions is contributing to the overdose epidemic. (Chris Corday/CBC)

A harm reduction leader at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control says B.C.'s opioid epidemic is being made worse because drug users are too afraid and ashamed to seek help.

The B.C. Coroners Service says the number of deaths from overdoses has risen dramatically and the province declared a public health emergency in April due to the crisis.

Fentanyl continues to show up either on its own, or mixed with other drugs, and has taken an unprecedented number of lives, particularly the lives of young people.

But Dr. Jane Buxton says the stigma around drug use and addiction is only making the crisis worse.

"It prevents people from coming forward. It prevents people from getting help."

Buxton explained it can be hard for people without experience with drug addiction — family or friends of drug users — to understand how or why people use drugs.

"People don't develop an addiction or substance abuse disorder on purpose.  Many folks think 'can't they just stop?' and that's not the reality or people's lives. People are taking drugs to ease pain or trauma or suffering — both physical, mental or emotional."

A change in approach needed

Buxton said people should treat those with substance use disorders with compassion, and encourage users to come forward.

"Drug users need to be able to talk to their family members and their loved ones," she said, adding, "not telling anyone puts people in a very, very dangerous situation because there's nobody that knows that they're using."

Buxton said it's good the crisis is getting headlines, but more needs to be done, particularly around making sure people can use drugs safely.

"We have to change people's attitudes and we have to make people feel supported."

With files from Daybreak North

To hear the interview, click on the link labelled Dr. Jane Buxton says stigma around drug use contributing to fentanyl epidemic