The House

'Things are not getting better': B.C. opioid crisis still raging

A huge portion of opioid deaths in Canada occur in British Columbia, and the problem isn't abating, says the minister in charge.
An Ontario Provincial Police officer displays bags containing fentanyl during a news conference in Vaughan, Ont., on Feb. 23, 2017. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

A huge percentage of opioid deaths in Canada happen in British Columbia, and the problem isn't easing off.

The province declared a state of emergency in the spring of 2016, but thousands of people have died since.

"Things are not getting better," Judy Darcy, B.C.'s minister of Mental Health and Addictions, told Chris Hall on The House.

"We're doing many of the right things but we need to be doing more of them."

The federal government's 2018 budget set aside $230 million over five years to address the opioid crisis, but Darcy said Ottawa has resisted opening up the conversation to include some of the alternative approaches B.C. has proposed.

B.C. is taking steps to ease the crisis — supporting first responders, increasing the number of doctors who can prescribe opioid alternatives and opening more supervised injection sites.

"We're turning over every possible stone," Darcy said.

Still, it's not enough. Complete numbers haven't been released, but reports indicate 2018 is matching the trend of last year, which saw nearly 4,000 people die of overdoses nationwide.

The Lancet medical journal concluded this week that, "although the interventions to date have protected human lives, current actions are simply not sufficient."

Darcy said there's a need to connect more people with treatment and tackle the root problems of addiction.

The B.C. government wants distributors and manufacturers of opioids to take responsibility for what's happening. It has launched a lawsuit against dozens of opioid industry players, saying they should have known the drugs were ending up on the illegal market.