British Columbia

B.C. senator says fentanyl crisis worse than HIV/AIDS in '90s

Senator Larry Campbell, who served as a coroner during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Vancouver, says “It really feels worse than déjà vu" when he reflects on the current fentanyl epidemic.

Senator Larry Campbell says more needs to be done federally

Paramedics and firefighters work to revive an overdose patient in Vancouver with repeated doses of Naloxone, the antidote to opiods such as fentanyl. (Frederic Gagnon/CBC)

B.C. Senator Larry Campbell says the province's ongoing fentanyl epidemic seems worse than the HIV/AIDS crisis of the early '90s.

"It really feels worse than déjà vu," Campbell, who served as a coroner during that time, told On The Coast guest host Gloria Macarenko. "The numbers are staggering."

"We were talking 250, 300 deaths a year," Campbell said of how HIV/AIDS impacted Vancouver. "And we're looking at that [number of overdose deaths] in literally the first quarter."

Campbell says more needs to be done at the federal level, citing certain regulations "hampering" efforts to contain the crisis, including laws that restrict supervised injection sites.

He says the federal government needs to work with countries like India and China, which are the sources for much of the fentanyl coming into Canada.

"India and China both want to be partners, and my message at the federal level would be, 'you need to step up on this,'" Campbell said.

Campbell says he suspects the federal government will soon make pill presses illegal. He says there need to be "severe" penalties for anyone convicted of fentanyl distribution.

"Nobody in their right mind can tell me they don't know they're effectively putting out a death drug," he said. "If you're in possession of that, you know you're going to kill somebody."

Campbell also says the chemical industry in Canada needs to keep a tighter rein on precursor drugs that are ingredients for making fentanyl.

Health Canada has restricted the six drugs that are used to make fentanyl, but Campbell says it's still too easy for criminals to steal those chemicals.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: B.C. senator says fentanyl crisis worse than HIV/AIDS in '90s