British Columbia

Trudeau discusses overdose crisis with first responders in Vancouver

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to reporters in Vancouver Friday after meeting with first responders and health-care workers to discuss the illicit drug overdose crisis that has claimed 922 lives in B.C. last year.

PM stops short of calling situation a national crisis

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a media availability in Vancouver, B.C. on Friday, March 3, 2017. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canadians need to come together to solve the illicit drug overdose crisis that has claimed 922 lives in B.C. last year — but he stopped short of calling it a national crisis.

After a morning tour of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Trudeau told reporters solutions must be long-term plans rather than stop-gap solutions.

"The impact has been devastating. Families ripped apart. Communities forever altered. Loved ones lost too soon," he told a news conference after meeting with first responders and health-care workers.

"This is a crisis that seems, for most Canadians, to be very far away. Something that's limited to certain tougher parts of town, to the West Coast, but we are seeing a spread of opioids across the country and we're seeing it spread far and wide across socio-economic levels, across communities.

"We need to come together as a country to help our most vulnerable."

But on the question of whether there would be dedicated funding for heroin-assisted treatment, Trudeau declined to directly respond.

"We continue to understand that yes, there is a need for specific funding for frontline supports and medical support, and we're of course working with the province on that ... there is much to do and we will certainly continue to work to ensure there are resources to tackle and overcome this problem," he said. 

In his last visit to B.C. in December, Trudeau said he met with people on the Downtown Eastside who raised concerns about expanding hours for safe consumption sites.

He said the recently announced $10 million of federal funds for the province is aimed at improving the response to the crisis.

While legislation to legalize marijuana is planned to be introduced before the summer, Trudeau said it's the only illegal drug under review.

He said regulating the sale of marijuana will protect young people and take money away from criminal gangs, but the government is drawing the line at pot when it comes to legalizing illicit drugs.

With files from Belle Puri.