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B.C. deaths from illicit drug overdose at another all-time high

Last Updated Feb 7, 2019 at 2:33 pm PDT

FILE - Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe speaks to reporters on Feb. 7, 2019. (Liza Yuzda, NEWS 1130 Photo)

B.C.'s top doctor opioid problem needs to be seen as health issue rather than criminal justice one.

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) – With a toxic supply of street drugs and mounting illicit drug overdose deaths — about 1,500 last year — B.C.’s top health officers say we need to supply safe drugs to save chronic users until they can save themselves.

“What I call a ‘defacto decriminalization,'” said Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe, who adds this means offering users help where they are.

She says the illicit drug supply is unpredictable and opioid fentanyl is implicated in 86 per cent of overdose deaths.

The BC Coroners Service says the death toll due to illicit drug overdoses is likely to go higher as death investigations conclude for last year.

Since drug regulation is federal, Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry says they’re getting creative.

“Our federal minister of health has supported development of safer drug supply for people who have addictions and are dependent on the toxic street drug supply. But they are not at this moment looking at changing the Criminal Code.”

She says that includes working with feds on making prescription-grade heroin and other drugs available regularly.

“We need to formalize our way of looking at this as health issue rather than a criminal justice [issue],” she added.

Dr. Evan Wood, executive director with the BC Centre on Substance Use, says the crisis isn’t slowing down and there’s an urgent need to end the harms caused by prohibition.

The 1,489 deaths from illicit drug overdose in 2018 is more than deaths from suicide, homicide, and motor vehicles combined.

B.C.’s provincial health officer declared a public health emergency in April 2016 in response to the rise in drug overdoses and deaths.

Lapointe and Henry are working on a provincial process, saying they can’t wait for federal regulations to change.