We need to be realistic about the opioid crisis in rural communities.

As The Goat has covered in past weeks, the opioid crisis — specifically fentanyl — is extending to rural communities. Valemount has only had one confirmed overdose, but in proactive fashion, the community has come together to educate its residents.

For the most part, the public forum on fentanyl, put on at Valemount Secondary, did just that. Principal and emcee Dan Kenkel, even said at one point the forum may have been an example of “chicken little,” of turning nothing into something.

But he also said it’s worth talking about.

It doesn’t happen very often that I agree with our mayor, but at the Feb. 14 Council meeting Mayor Townsend spoke about the courts responding from public pressure, and giving stiff sentences to those trafficking fentanyl.

At the end of January, a man named Walter James McCormick was sentenced to 14 years in prison for fentanyl trafficking and was one of 10 people arrested in relation to the committed crimes.

Valemount RCMP officer, Chris Gallant, said at the public forum that a 14-year drug trafficking sentence in Canada is almost “unheard of” meaning what our mayor said about the courts is true.

The courts are setting a precedent.

This is a good thing: the judicial system is cracking down on those distributing fentanyl, not those inadvertently using it.

Drug users and addicts don’t need to be punished for something that is already punishing them every single day.

“(There isn’t much we can do) other than strict court enforcement. (Dealers) are just there to make money and they don’t care if they harm anybody or take anybody’s life,” Townsend said at the most recent Council meeting, and to me, she’s right.

These dealers, knowingly distributing fentanyl, want people hooked on their drugs and want users coming back to them. The dealers are directly responsible for hundreds of deaths.

Heather Whalen, a Northern Health addictions and mental health councillor, was at the forum too. During her presentation, she played a video stating, “Pain is at the heart of all addiction.”

I agree.

The reality is this: generally, people are not seeking out fentanyl. These people are already suffering addiction issues relating cocaine, ecstasy and oxycodone, and now we have fentanyl in the mix.

The biggest fear related to drug use used to be addiction, the destruction of what could have been a productive life, and in the extreme cases, overdose.

But now the concern of overdose has superseded the concerns of addiction, and in turn a potentially productive life. This is in direct relation to sheer strength and potency of fentanyl.

This should also be a warning to people who use hard-drugs such as cocaine or ecstasy recreationally: Don’t. It’s just not safe anymore, if it ever was.

However, to me, a solution to the opioid crisis is two-fold.

One: is what the mayor and RCMP have suggested, which is stiff punishment to anyone distributing fentanyl. Deal with the dealers, the source of the problem.

Two: Continue to tackle the issue of addiction and mental health. Addicts have pain inside of them, so counseling services, rehab, and kindness is the way to deal with these folks. Free naloxone kits are a good thing for the time being, but they won’t solve the problem.

Maybe the opioid crisis won’t affect the Robson Valley significantly, and maybe it is a case of “chicken little.”

But the opioid crisis is real and it’s here.

I’m thankful the active players here, including police, local government, along with health and medical professionals, have approached the issue with reason.