British Columbia

B.C. residents can now provide input on how to tackle toxic drug crisis

British Columbians are being urged to contribute to a government consultation on the toxic drug emergency, which continues to see an average of more than six residents die of an overdose every day.

Public consultation open until Aug. 5; B.C. on track to match last year's record death toll from toxic drugs

Two people walk by a sea of purple flags. A sign reads 'BC's Massive Death Crisis — 10K Deaths — Where's the Response?'
Flags that represent the lives lost due to drug overdoses are pictured during a Moms Stop The Harm memorial on the sixth anniversary of the opioid public health emergency in Vancouver in April. The government is inviting the public to provide input on how it can stop the deaths, as part of a legislative committee. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

British Columbians are being urged to contribute to a government consultation on the toxic drug emergency, which continues to see an average of more than six residents die of an overdose every day.

The public consultation is part of the provincial standing committee on health, which was formed earlier this year and involves MLAs from all three provincial parties. 

It aims to provide recommendations to the government on how to stop an increasing number of people dying from a poisoned illicit-drug supply in the province. 

Figures released Thursday show B.C. is on track to match last year's record of 2,265 overdose deaths, with 940 deaths recorded from January until May.

 

"It's really important that we open this up to the public, because this is an issue that is affecting people everywhere in British Columbia, across all sectors," said B.C. Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, a member of the standing committee.

Fatal drug overdoses are the most common cause of unnatural death in B.C. — more common than homicides, suicides, car accidents, drownings and fire deaths combined. 

Furstenau said the committee had already heard from numerous stakeholders on the issue of the poisoned drug supply.

They include Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe and representatives from the B.C. Métis Federation and Indigenous healing initiatives.

"One of the things that is really striking for me is there is no shortage of solutions from people who are experts in myriad ways," Furstenau said. "What we need right now is the political will and the political courage to implement those solutions so that we stop losing so many people.

"This drug supply is killing people, and we have to implement these solutions with urgency." 

The public consultation is now open on the legislature's website, accessible through this link.

Public can provide 4 recommendations

The government says the public can provide up to four recommendations to tackle the crisis, including actions to take, how existing services can be improved, and how to "address the harm done by the increasingly toxic and unpredictable illicit supply".

Juls Budau, a graduate student who does research on a prescribed safe supply of drugs, says the existing safe supply in B.C. doesn't reach enough people to meaningfully alter the course of the emergency.

She also says the government's current response is not what drug user groups have been asking for. Currently, the province says it is focused primarily on addiction treatment and an upcoming initiative to decriminalize possession of small amounts of drugs.

"I think the stigma still prevails … whatever the drug user groups are asking for is seen as irresponsible or criminal," she said. "Right now, we're in a matter of life and death.

"Imagine if people were dying of a poisoned alcohol supply, and then everybody who wanted to drink was just put into treatment."

Budau says the current life-saving measures in place in B.C., including overdose prevention sites and needle exchanges, were once criminalized until the medical establishment came around on them. She says they should be listening to drug users when it comes to safe supply.

Some of the measures Budau says the public should consider supporting are compassion clubs and prescribed safer supply, and government-supported Indigenous healing centres.

 

Budau, who is based in Prince George, B.C., says the poisoned drug supply affects people around the province and so the public should also voice support for more decentralized services — so people in rural and northern B.C. are able to access safer drugs and services.

"The government should be setting up a province-wide prescriber framework," she said. "I hope that they commit a lot more funding to these healing centres … detox is not very accessible in the north."

The public consultation page is open until Aug. 5. The standing committee is set to provide recommendations to the government in November.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Akshay Kulkarni

Journalist

Akshay Kulkarni is a journalist who has worked at CBC British Columbia since 2021. Based in Vancouver, he has covered breaking news, and written features about the pandemic and toxic drug crisis. He is most interested in data-driven stories. You can email him at akshay.kulkarni@cbc.ca.

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