Health is arguably our most precious resource.

Physical, mental, emotional, financial, spiritual and environmental health all culminate together, resulting in our overall level of health. Based largely on our personal choices - what we eat, how much we exercise, how much water we drink, how many z’s we get in each night - the level that is created allows us to either enjoy life, or suffer through it.

Along with the things we can control however, come some that we cannot. I’m talking specifically about changes to our environment which did not make and/or that we are unable to change. People who work and/or live in stressful environments are more susceptible to illness and disease, physical and emotional pain, depression. Studies done back in the 1980’s and into the 1990’s by psychologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, and immunologist Ronald Glaser, PhD, of the Ohio State University College of Medicine, studied med students and found that stress from just a short, three-day exam period, compromised students’ immunity. Their bodies almost stopped producing the immunity-boosting and infection-fighting cells needed to fight tumours and viral infections. Just three days. Now imagine it’s not just three days of exam but everyday and coming from the environment in which you live. And imagine it’s not just one person who’s being affected, but entire neighbourhoods. Being in a constant state of stress causes the immune system to shut down, putting health at risk. This is true for individuals, families and communities as a whole living in areas where environments have been negatively impacted as addiction has become part of their landscape.

Drugs, overdose, crime, and fear have recently become a reality in many neighbourhoods across BC. You don’t have to look very far. If you live in Kelowna, and more specifically Rutland, you need only to look out your widow, or down the street. If you’re fortunate to not have these issues in your neighbourhood yet, you’ve likely seen several news stories lately on homelessness, drug addiction, facilities being constructed, the resulting negative impact on the community and Council's decision this week on how to handle it. Some may call the verbal agreement Council struck with BC Housing stating that the new facility going up will remain 'dry', a win. Many more of us see it as a bandaid given that BC Housing is able to change that designation at any time. Let’s just say it’s not been pretty. I was born in Kelowna and have lived 45 of my 51 years in Rutland and can honestly say there's never been anything quite like this. Clearly a stressful situation for all concerned.

We can see what drug addiction does to someone in terms of their physical and sometimes we see what happens to their mental health as well. The constant and continuous stress inflicted on the body on a daily basis. A recipe for disaster - not only for the addict, but for everyone around him/her based on the environment created by addiction. Nobody wins when addiction is present.

Addiction is defined as, a psychological and physical inability to stop consuming a chemical, drug, activity, or substance, even though it is causing psychological and physical harm.

An inability to stop. So no matter how awful the circumstances may be for that person, they are unable to make a better choice for themselves, let alone anyone around them. Honestly, I’m quite sure no one’s childhood dream is now or was ever to grow up and become an addict, lose everything and live on the streets. Seriously. Yet it happens. There are many reasons people take drugs - some because they were prescribed, some as a poor choice. But regardless whether it comes via prescription or from the street, addiction is a real risk and the results are devastating.

So, what are the drugs in the opioid crisis? Prescription pain killers such as morphine, codeine, heroine, oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, buprenorphine, methadone, fentanyl are what’s known as opiates. Some are derived from the opium poppy, some are derived using chemical processing of the extracted opiate and others are created synthetically in a lab. Some are more potent than others - fentanyl is 50 - 100 times more potent than morphine and 30-50 times more potent than heroine - but all are addictive.

Doctors will often prescribed opiates to stop or manage pain. Opiates attach to proteins called opioid receptors found on nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord, gut and other parts of the body. When this happens, the opioids block pain messages sent from the body through the spinal cord to the brain. Ironically, opiate addiction is physical and trying to come off actually causes extreme physical side effects and severe pain.

Alongside the opioid crises, methamphedemine or, meth, is another drug we are hearing about more often in the news. Although not physically addictive like opiates, meth is extremely psychologically addictive. Meth causes an immediate rush of dopamine to flood the brain, triggering the pleasure/reward centre. The intense pleasure is very short lived. Subsequent highs are never the same as the first, causing the person to continue seeking that original sensation they will never experience again. And the addict is born.

I’ve done a little digging and data reported May 15 of this year on a Government of Canada website, “94 percent of all opioid-related deaths in 2018 were accidental.” These people did not intend to die but did due to an overdose or complication from their drug of choice. The same website states that, “Western Canada continues to be the most impacted region of the country…” And as with trying to solve any health-related issue, these statistics will only go down and neighbourhood environments will only be improved by getting to the root of the problem rather than simply putting a bandaid on it.

The constant in all of the issues we are seeing an increase of – homelessness, increased property crime, theft, threats to personal safety – is addiction and the drugs that fuel it. That's the root. Helping people conquer their addiction and restore health to their bodies and minds, will naturally restore health to neighbourhoods, communities, cities and beyond. Overcoming addiction will never be accomplished by being in an environment surrounded by the very things that fuel it. Perhaps if politicians started putting the health of the citizens before the health of their careers we could start moving in the right direction.

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