Since the introduction of illicit drugs tainted with poison in BC communities, overdose deaths have skyrocketed. Between 2012 and 2015, 1,502 people died from poisoned illicit drugs, rising from 270 deaths in 2012 to 529 in 2015. In response in April 2016, the BC Public Health Officer declared the poisoned drug crisis a public health emergency. Tragically, the number of drug toxicity deaths has continued to balloon since then, reaching 11,085 deaths by March 31, 2022. On average, six people die everyday due to poisoned drugs.
Historically, illicit drugs have been treated as a criminal issue. The truth is that illicit drugs are used by a wide segment of the population for a variety of reasons. Some drug users may have an addiction issue, while others may use drugs to cope with stress and anxiety. At root, use of illicit drugs is a medical / mental health issue unique to each individual. Our approach to illicit drugs must be based in this perspective.
The BC Greens' plan for Poisoned drug crisis
The BC Green Party has long advocated for “harm reduction”, a term that describes compassionate and respectful ways of minimizing the worst impacts of drug use. The most fundamental goal of harm reduction is to prevent death.
“Safe supply” is a harm reduction approach that provides regulated drugs without contaminants to users. While it may seem counterintuitive to some people to do this, the primary goal of this measure is to save lives. People can’t seek treatment for mental health issues or an addiction unless they continue living. Poisoned drugs are so prevalent in BC that we have to focus on keeping people alive in the first place.
Stigma around drug use acts as a barrier to seeking treatment and support. As of May 31, 2022, the federal government has agreed to a limited form of decriminalization for personal possession of illicit drugs. This will help shift legal enforcement and societal attitudes toward drug use from a criminal matter to a health matter. It is a positive step forward for reducing stigma. However, given that six people die everyday from poisoned drugs, it is worrisome that decriminalization will not come into effect until January 1, 2023, and that the threshold for personal possession is so low.
Legislative committees bring MLAs, experts, people with lived experience, and the public together to explore solutions to major issues. It gives all political parties the same baseline of expert testimony and research outside of highly politicized forums such as Question Period. In this depoliticized space, MLAs can enter into genuine dialogue, producing recommendations for the government that are supported by all three parties.
After a year of advocacy, the BC NDP finally agreed to our request to activate a committee to study the poisoned drug crisis. It is now meeting regularly. We hope that it unites the legislature around an urgent approach to addressing the poisoned drug crisis, and that the government heeds its advice.