British Columbia

Fentanyl crisis gives new B.C. addictions minister 'plenty to do'

New Westminster MLA Judy Darcy tasked with epidemic of overdoses that killed more than 1,000 in 2016

CBC News

July 19, 2017

More than 1,000 people died of drug overdoses in B.C. last year. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

B.C.'s new premier has described Judy Darcy's portfolio as the toughest in the NDP cabinet, but those on the front lines of the fentanyl crisis are optimistic she can make a difference.

John Horgan has named the New Westminster MLA as minister of mental health and addictions, tasking her with finding solutions to an opioid overdose epidemic that saw more than 1,000 people die across the province last year.

ADVERTISEMENT

"I'm very passionate about this issue. It touches every single British Columbia family, including mine," Darcy said Tuesday after the unveiling of the new cabinet.

Judy Darcy will lead the ministry of mental health and addictions in B.C.'s new NDP government. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Her mother struggled with mental illness and addiction for most of her life, said the new minister, who served as opposition health critic under the previous Liberal government.

"Everybody has a loved one that is suffering with mental illness or dealing with addictions and the opioid crisis that we're seeing today affects people on the Downtown Eastside. It affects people in New Westminster. It affects suburban families. It affects people all across British Columbia," Darcy said.

'Losing lives every day'

In Vancouver alone, 25 people died of suspected overdoses last month, and first responders were called to handle 579 overdoses in total.

The Downtown Eastside has borne the brunt of the crisis, and community members there are eager to see the minister visit the neighbourhood and see the impact of the emergency first hand, according to Overdose Prevention Society (OPS) founder Sarah Blyth.

"I think that it's great to have someone just on that one file, because it shows that they're really taking it seriously," Blyth said.

"We're just waiting for something to happen on the ground because we're just continuously losing lives every day."

She said some of the first steps for Darcy should be to visit the OPS supervised injection site to understand the scale of the crisis, then to find ways to provide people with the medications they need, so they don't have to resort to unsafe street drugs.

"There's plenty to do. It's just a matter of getting down and doing it," Blyth said.

Start the day smarter
Get the CBC News Morning Brief, the essential news you need delivered to your inbox