British Columbia

'I regret that very much': Premier John Horgan apologizes for comments labelling 1st time drug use as a choice

B.C. Premier John Horgan says he’s sorry he “mischaracterized the challenges of addictions,” when answering reporters' questions Thursday.

Apology comes after worst month for overdose deaths in B.C. history

B.C. Premier John Horgan says he's sorry he "mischaracterized" the challenges people face with addictions. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

B.C. Premier John Horgan says he's sorry he "mischaracterized the challenges of addictions," after the province announced its worst month for overdose deaths in B.C. history.

On Thursday, the B.C. Coroners Service said 175 people died of illicit drug toxicity in June, up from the previous high of 171 in May.

The number of illicit drug overdose deaths in June came close to eclipsing the total of number of COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic was declared.

Since B.C. recorded its first death on March 9, 2020, there have been 189 lives lost to the disease.

While speaking to reporters Thursday, Horgan said both public health emergencies in B.C. come with their own unique set of challenges.

"We have an insidious virus that affects anyone at any time and we have an opioid crisis that involves people using drugs," he said. 

'Choices initially'

"Those are choices initially and then they become dependencies. Once people make those choices, they are no longer in a position to stop making those choices without intervention," he said.

At a news conference in Sooke, B.C. Friday, Horgan was asked if he regretted saying addiction starts out as a choice.

The premier said he misspoke while trying to explain the challenges the province faces with dual public health emergencies.

"I spoke longer than I could have or should have," said Horgan. That's not my point of view, I mischaracterized the situation and I regret that very much." 

Some mental health and addictions critics say the overdose crisis has been overshadowed by the pandemic, and the province needs to quickly develop a comprehensive plan to address overdoses.

Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users founder Ann Livingston says given the overdose crisis has been far more deadly than the coronavirus in B.C., the province should provide similar resources to address it and give frequent updates like it does for COVID-19.

"When you give a report about one, it only seems fair that you give a report about the other," she said.

"It really juxtaposes how they treat COVID-19 and how they treat overdoses." 

There has been a total of 728 illicit drug deaths in B.C. to date in 2020, and the number of deaths in each health authority is at or near the highest monthly totals ever recorded. 

With files from Jesse Johnston