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Solutions sought for toxic drug crisis in Port Alberni

Community Action Team will mark Aug. 31 with a town hall meeting
Mary Clare Massicotte, the coordinator for the Port Alberni Community Action Team, ties a purple ribbon around a sign post outside of Port Alberni City Hall to mark International Overdose Awareness Day in 2021. (AV NEWS FILE PHOTO)

A town hall meeting in Port Alberni later this month will focus on finding positive solutions for the toxic drug crisis.

A report released by the BC Coroners Service on Aug. 16 shows that at least 1,095 people in B.C. died of toxic drug overdoses between January and June of this year—the highest number ever recorded in the first six months of a calendar year.

The report says that 11 people died in the Alberni-Clayoquot region in those six months.

“For a small community, 11 deaths is too many,” says Mary Clare Massicotte, coordinator of the Port Alberni Community Action Team (CAT).

The Port Alberni CAT was formed a few years ago, after the opioid crisis was declared a provincial public health emergency, to spearhead coordination and communication to respond to the needs of those most at risk of overdose in their communities. Last year, the CAT marked the International Day of Overdose Awareness on Aug. 31 by drawing attention to the crisis, drawing chalk silhouettes outside of city hall and the local courthouse to represent the people in B.C. lost to drug poisonings.

READ MORE: Community Action Team brings Port Alberni’s opioid crisis into the open

This year, the CAT hopes to take the next step and find solutions. They will mark Wednesday, Aug. 31 with a town hall meeting at Trinity Church (4766 Angus Street) from 7-9 p.m. Massicotte says the theme of the event will be positive solutions.

“We want to not focus on the problems, but focus on positive solutions,” she explained.

While the opioid crisis is not unique to Port Alberni, she added, the CAT wants to find solutions that are unique to Port Alberni.

Guest speakers, including Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne and Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns, will talk about solutions that have worked in other communities. Another guest speaker, Josh Dahling, will also talk about his own personal experience with addiction.

Both local First Nations, Tseshaht and Hupacasath, have been invited to open and close the event, said Massicotte.

Port Alberni has been struggling with the opioid crisis for many years, which led Island Health to open an overdose prevention site on Third Avenue, operated by the Port Alberni Shelter Society. The site has been met with some criticism, especially from business owners in the area who feel they are negatively impacted by its presence.

Massicotte says she hopes some of these business owners attend the meeting on Wednesday.

“It’s all about hearing people and listening,” said Massicotte. “We want people with divergent points of view to be there. We have no idea how many people are going to show up—we hope there will be lots.”

The town hall will also mark the launch of a short documentary film that the CAT has been working on with the help of a First Nations Health Authority grant. In the 15-minute documentary, which is titled “Humans First,” a number of people living on the streets in Port Alberni talk about their perspective on stigma and barriers to services in the community.

“These are people we see every day in our community,” said Massicotte. “We think it’s going to be very powerful, because it’s very impactful.”

Support workers will be on hand in case any of the content is triggering for attendees. Refreshments will be served throughout the evening.

The town hall won’t be the only event happening in Port Alberni to mark Overdose Awareness Day. The Bread of Life will be putting on a pizza lunch on Fourth Avenue from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) will also be holding a gathering and candlelight vigil at Harbour Quay from 6-8 p.m.

Although the NTC event overlaps with the town hall, Massicotte says she is impressed to see three major events happening to mark the day in Port Alberni.

“It means people are taking this seriously,” she said.

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Elena Rardon

About the Author: Elena Rardon

I have worked with the Alberni Valley News since 2016.
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