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Support for NDP approach to addictions lowest in country as opioid crisis worsens, shows poll

Last Updated Feb 24, 2021 at 9:04 am PDT

FILE: Prescription pills containing oxycodone and acetaminophen are shown in Toronto, Dec. 23, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy

One-in-ten British Columbians say they know someone who has died of an overdose

While the pandemic worsens overdoses, the latter gets far less attention, says pollster

British Columbians give NDP a failing grade on the addictions file

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — British Columbians are the least likely to support their province’s approach to the opioid addiction crisis in the entire country, according to a recent poll.

Only two per cent of those asked say Premier John Horgan and the NDP are doing a “very good job” while two-thirds classify the approach as “poor” or “very poor.”

However, the B.C. government is not alone in facing a decline in public approval on the addictions and mental health file. Canadians from coast to coast are critical of how the issue has been handled in their own provinces.

It comes after more than 1,700 people died of suspected overdoses in this province in 2020.

The Angus Reid Institute says the past year has provided “an endless avalanche of trackable statistics about COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, deaths, recoveries, and vaccinations.”

The group says the two emergencies are intimately connected but one is getting a lot more attention than the other.

“Perhaps lost in this information overload is the ongoing and deepening tragedy of Canada’s other epidemic: one that is bearing witness to more death, misery, and suffering as a result of drug addiction – propelled in particular by opioid dependence.”

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Meanwhile, fewer and fewer Canadians are actually paying attention, and the number who say they are following the matter closely has plummeted from 42 per cent in early 2019 to just 16 per cent in 2021.

“While research from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction has shown the negative impacts of both health emergencies to be intimately connected, one problem is drawing considerably more attention that the other,” says the poll’s accompanying report.

As the pandemic continues to exacerbate the crisis, Canadians mostly agree that more needs to be done and mostly support supervised injection sites, compulsory treatment, and decriminalization.

Even where support is lowest geographically, proponents of progressive drug policies accounted for about half of those polled.

People in B.C. showed the most support for decriminalization of drugs at 66 per cent, with Saskatchewan, Alberta and Newfoundland showing the least at about half of the population approving.

Quebecers showed the most support for supervised injection sites but about two-thirds of Canadians overall want to see similar drug-use sites.

Angus Reid says “When it comes to other policies, Vancouver continues to break new ground. In November, Vancouver’s city council unanimously supported a motion to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs,” says the report on the polling data.

“The city now awaits approval from the federal government on its plan, having requested an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act within its boundaries.”

About half of Canadians say that cracking down or ‘getting tough’ is necessary.

Voters who identify as conservative or who are over 55 years old were more likely to say cracking down on drug use with police enforcement and drug charges is the way to go.
But a generally untested approach got a surprising amount of support.

“The most supported approach is compulsory treatment for people who use drugs. While 88 per cent of Canadians say they support this strategy, there is a current absence of evidence as to its effectiveness in this country. Nonetheless, Canadians appear enthusiastic about the idea of forcing people who are having challenges to seek treatment in some form,” says the report.