British Columbia

Group calls for urgent action to help those at the intersection of B.C.'s dual health emergencies

B.C. Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors call for equitable application of public health protections for those living through the overdose and COVID-19 crisis.

COVID-19 pandemic will hit hardest among people already dealing with overdose crisis, they say

Crowds of people on Vancouver's Hastings Street, part of the Downtown Eastside, on March 25, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A group demanding urgent action to safeguard vulnerable populations around B.C. says the health and well-being of the entire province is only as strong as it's weakest link when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an open letter addressed to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix, the B.C. Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors is calling for equitable application of public health protections for those living through the double public health emergencies of the opioid and coronavirus crises.

"We are at the intersection of a horrendous problem," said signatory Dr. John Farley. "Unless we tackle it head on we are heading for a disaster. It won't just affect those people over there, it will hit all of us." 

The letter makes four recommendations:

  • Immediate suspension of municipal bylaws which sanction the displacement of people sheltering in public spaces.
  • Police stop enforcing laws around simple possession and related offences.
  • Reemphasize to prescribers and their colleges the importance of new safe supply guidelines.
  • Provide resources and attention similar to those currently going to long-term care homes to reserves, prisons, homeless shelters and high-density, high-risk hubs such as Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

In the group's media conference, Dr. Mark Tyndall said it was time for bold action on housing because asking the homeless help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by self-isolating and practicing good hygiene makes no sense. 

"There is a lot of available shelter out there and we need to take bold steps and offer safe housing to people," said Tyndall. "We cannot leave whole sections of the population with no real way to protect themselves."

He also stressed the importance of providing drug users reliable access to safe supply.

"For people in addiction, COVID-19 is not a priority. If the only way to access the drugs someone needs is hustling on the streets, there's no way the virus won't be transmitted," he said. 

The B.C. Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors said it applauds the actions taken by all levels of government to allow the introduction of safe supply, but says more needs to be done to make the program effective, including getting more prescribing doctors on board. 

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