'You are not alone,' B.C.'s top doctor says on 4th anniversary of overdose emergency
Provincial health officer and addictions minister say COVID-19 poses extra challenges for drug users
On the fourth anniversary of B.C.'s declaration of a public health emergency, provincial officials say they haven't forgotten about the opioid overdose crisis that has already taken thousands of lives.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry took a moment during her daily COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday to acknowledge that the novel coronavirus is just one of the two emergencies currently facing the province.
"I am acutely aware and continue to be acutely aware of the suffering and loss that is being felt by people who use drugs, by their families by their communities. Many have lost loved ones," Henry said.
"I want you to know you are not alone, that we are not slowing down our response or taking our focus off the importance of being able to support people who use drugs and their families in our communities."
Last year, 981 people died in B.C. of suspected overdoses — or nearly three people every day.
In a statement on Tuesday, Minister of Mental Health and Addiction Judy Darcy pointed out that while the number of deaths is down from a year earlier, when 1,543 people died, it is still far too high.
"There are still countless families reeling from the unfathomable grief of losing a loved one. Now, we are facing a global pandemic on top of a fentanyl-poisoning crisis. People are scared and they feel alone," Darcy said.
"No one should have to risk their life to get the medication they need. Whether you are visiting a clinic every day for your safe prescription medications, or are reliant on an unpredictable, illegal street-drug supply, following provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry's orders on physical distancing and self-isolation can feel almost impossible."
Watch: Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the opioid crisis
In response to those challenges, the province has introduced a plan for providing a safe supply of drugs during the COVID-19 epidemic, and Henry said the province is working to make sure that people who use drugs have reliable access to food and shelter.
"We want all of those who are living with substance use and addiction and other major health issues to know that you are not forgotten and we are continuing to make sure we have those safety nets in place for you," Henry said.