Last weekend, the federal health minister, Jane Philpott, when speaking at the International Harm Reduction Conference 2017 in Montreal, acknowledged that more people have died in the past few years in the opioid epidemic than at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the late 80s and early 90s. This is a sad and shocking fact that activists on the ground have known of a while.
Think about that for a minute. The death toll of the opioid epidemic, an epidemic caused by drug prohibition, has surpassed the staggering losses due to AIDS.
In 2016, 931 people died in British Columbia due to drug overdose, 343 people died in Alberta from fentanyl overdose, and many others in other provinces and territories died. In Ontario, about two people die a day due to opioid overdose. In 2016, it is estimated that 2,300 people died of overdose. These deaths happened under the watch of people who have lived through the AIDS crisis—people like Minster Philpott, who lists working as an HIV doctor as one of the feathers in her street cred cap.
If any other group of people were dying at this rate, there would be a national public health emergency declared so that funds could be diverted to support communities and mitigate any more deaths. AIDS was also long-neglected and under-resourced.
We think making the connection to the AIDS epidemic is important. People who have been impacted by HIV or who have been taught the history of AIDS activism have an understanding of the massive state silence that necessitated a broad social movement demanding action on AIDS. Making links between the overdose crisis and AIDS can be helpful in calling attention to the severity of what is going on, and can appeal to that sense of injustice that those who witnessed AIDS at it’s height may feel. Making the links may mobilize more people into action.
To read the complete article by Alexander McClelland, and Zoë Dodd, visit Torontoist here.
Alexander McClelland is an activist and researcher completing a PhD. at Concordia University and who works on issues related to HIV and criminalization.
Zoë Dodd is a front-line harm reduction worker and activist who has been advocating for people living with Hepatitis C and people who use drugs for over a decade.