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B.C. to ask feds for drug possession exemption 5 years into overdose crisis

Last Updated Apr 14, 2021 at 11:46 pm PDT

Summary

Since April 14, 2016, there have been more than 7,000 deaths related to overdoses in B.C.

B.C. is requesting a federal exemption to decriminalize drug possession

Province is promising another $45 million in funding over three years to expand overdose prevention services

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The province is requesting a federal exemption to decriminalize drug possession, five years after B.C. declared the overdose crisis a public health emergency.

Since April 14, 2016, there have been more than 7,000 deaths related to illicit drug overdoses in this province.

Dr. Perry Kendall, who was B.C.’s provincial health officer at the time, declared the emergency due to “a frightening increase in the number of deaths in the province from illicit drug toxicity.”

On Wednesday, B.C. Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe stressed the importance of reducing the shame around substance use and addiction if we want to turn things around.

“Our words and individual actions matter, and we can help to reduce stigma and the dangerous and often fatal consequences of isolating and marginalizing those who use substances by offering instead our support and our compassion,” she said.

Lapointe added no one is immune to the problem, noting it’s costing taxpayers “an enormous amount of money,” in addition to being a social and health problem.

“The answers are not easily found, neither are the remedies cheap. The problems cover a wide range of issues, the solutions equally expansive and expensive. But unless these are dealt with head on and now, future generations may well be unable to contend with the consequences of our generation’s unwillingness to face up to reality,” she said.

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That’s why the province is officially requesting the federal exemption, with the hopes of encouraging more people to seek help.

The B.C. government is also promising another $45 million in funding over the next three years to expand overdose prevention services province-wide.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry also stressed the importance of reaching out and supporting family and friends who are dealing with substance use and addiction.

“Behind each overdose statistic is a person, and as we’ve talked about, this is a personal issue for all of us. A person with dreams and aspirations, with families and friends who love them and continue to miss them dearly,” she said, noting addressing the overdose crisis has been a priority for herself and her office for the past five years.

To those who use drugs, she urged them not to do so alone.

“We know the toxicity of the drug supply that we’ve heard is just at a level right now that even a single experiment can be fatal and is fatal far, far too often,” Henry said.

Record high overdose deaths amid pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the overdose crisis, with 2020 seeing deaths jump to new highs. The pandemic increased isolation and made drug supply chains unpredictable and more toxic than they already were.

“While COVID-19 has cast a long shadow, the [overdose crisis] remains one of the priorities that I continue to focus on,” Henry said, adding there have been too many lives lost.

“We know that the actions that we have taken to try and stem the tide of this virus have caused people to be in more precarious situations,” she explained.

Henry said she understands the pandemic has led to anxiety and stresses for everyone, including those who struggle with substance use.

“People who have coped for many, many years in some cases are now being drawn back in to using substances at a time where they are more and more lethal.”

-With files from Denise Wong