VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – As B.C. marks five years since the overdose crisis was declared a public health emergency, the federal health critic is tabling a bill that he hopes will address the problem once and for all.
NDP MP Don Davies says he doesn’t just want to decriminalize personal possession of drugs, but also ensure access to a safe supply, bolster treatment and recovery services, and expunge criminal records for possession.
He says addictions should be treated as health issues.
“If we do, truly believe in an evidence-based approach — a policy which Prime Minister Trudeau claims he does — then he should be listening to the experts who tell us that it’s time to decriminalize and treat drug use as the social and health problems they are, not criminal and moral ones,” he argued.
Davies says criminal records can re-stigmatize drug users for decades, pushing them further away from recovery.
“You can’t throw a smoker or an alcoholic in jail and expect that that’s going to cure them. In my view, the type of substance doesn’t change the same approach that we have,” he said.
Since April 14, 2016, there have been more than 7,000 deaths related to illicit drug overdoses in B.C. More than 1,700 of those deaths were in the last year.
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, the B.C. government said it is requesting a federal exemption to decriminalize drug possession.
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.
The B.C. government is also promising another $45 million in funding over the next three years to expand overdose prevention services province-wide.
-With files from Mike Lloyd and Hana Mae Nassar