British Columbia

Advocacy group takes issue with B.C. government's ad campaign to fight opioid crisis

The Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs is calling on the provincial government to rethink its approach to fighting the opioid crisis in B.C.

The Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs wants the government to focus on the tainted drug supply

Westfall says that while his association was asked to consult on the ad original campaign by the B.C. government, it wasn't happy with the result. It's launched a campaign of its own that critiques the ad campaign. (CAPUD Facebook Page)

The Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs is calling on the provincial government to rethink its approach to fighting the opioid crisis in B.C.

The group, which formed in 2011 and now has chapters across the country, is taking issue with the province's stopoverdosebc.ca anti-stigma campaign that was launched earlier this year.

Members of the association have criticized the campaign, saying the posters, with their depictions of various kinds of drug users, places blame on individual users.

They say the opioid crisis is complex and would like to see a campaign that states that street drugs have been contaminated with lethal opioids.

The government's poster ads show pictures of different types of people, including businessmen and students with slogans like, "People who use drugs are real people."

The posters have been displayed as billboards, in transit stations and on social media.

Changing the message

The association is calling on its members to contribute slogan and poster ideas for a social media campaign they're describing as a remix of the original poster ads.

Jordan Westfall — the executive director of the association, and a former opioid user himself — says the remixing campaign focuses on using the original ads, but changing the message to focus on what they see as the root cause to the epidemic: a poisoned drug supply.

"We are kind of reflecting that image right back onto the government to say 'no we're not the problem here, the problem is systemic in nature, the drug market is contaminated," Westfall said.

While Westfall applauds the original ads for humanizing people who use drugs, he says they don't address the core issues of the overdose epidemic.

Westfall says the province consulted the association on the original posters in early 2018 before the campaign launched, but when members of the association arrived at a meeting the design mock-ups were already done.

'We need systemic, real change'

Westfall says the province has been focused on arresting fentanyl dealers as a way to stop the drug supply, but that isn't working.

"It actually makes the drug market more dangerous because people lose their dealers, they have to go to new dealers and they don't know what the drugs are like and they end up overdosing," he said.

"We need systemic, real change."

In a written statement, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions said it was aware, "that the toxic illegal drug supply is a significant factor to the ongoing overdose crisis."

The statement also said "police and health officials alike say we won't arrest our way out of this crisis, and our government agrees."

The ministry also said it stands by its ad campaign.

About the Author

Christine Coulter

Associate Producer

Christine Coulter is an associate producer on radio, television and digital platforms. You can send her an email at christine.coulter@cbc.ca.

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