VICTORIA, B.C. – The Select Standing Committee on Health has submitted its final report on the urgent and ongoing drug poisoning crisis in British Columbia.
“Today’s report is a reflection of the political landscape of this Assembly. In terms of recognizing the role of safe supply to stabilize this situation, the recommendations of this report do not go as far as I'd hoped,“ said Sonia Furstenau, Leader of the B.C. Greens and MLA for Cowichan Valley.
“The most important question to ask is, how do we stop people from dying? We heard from a wide range of presenters, including health officers, medical experts, advocates, and the Chiefs of Police, that low-barrier safe supply is necessary for reducing the toll of the toxic drug supply. While there is a need for scaling up mental health supports and treatment for people who seek it, we are seeing every day that the illicit toxic supply is taking people’s lives before they can access those services.
“Two of the recommendations that merit particular attention include the need for a review of the Mental Health Act and incorporating mental health into the healthcare system. The report also identifies the need for reliable access to mental health supports and treatment, both of which are lacking in communities across the province.
“This report is important in that it documents the input that this committee had from a wide range of experts, health professionals, advocates, and people who use drugs. It is yet another call to action – one of many since this health emergency was declared, including the Coroner’s Death Review Panel recommendations. We have a new incoming premier, and we have the testimony from this Committee, and now it is up to government – as it always has been up to government – to take action. This will take courage and political will, and I hope to see both of these in the days and weeks to come.”
What we heard from consultation on the Committee:
- Most people are dying at home, alone. The people most impacted are Indigenous women, young men, and people working in the trades, transport, or as equipment operators.
- Overdose prevention sites and drug checking are critical to preventing deaths, but many communities don’t have them, often because of local resistance.
- An overwhelmingly positive response that safe supply can work. But we heard several challenges with the way our current safer supply model is working – there is a lack of prescribers, and those with prescriptions are forced to line up every day for their supply, and that most of what’s available doesn’t meet people’s needs.
- Indigenous women are disproportionately impacted by this crisis, and that substance use is driven by ongoing colonialism, racism, and intergenerational trauma.
- Mental health supports are lacking and underfunded.
- About why people turn to drugs – homelessness, poverty, mental health issues, or being dependent on opiates that had been prescribed for pain relief.
- Drug use is polarizing, and this political sensitivity has inhibited this government from taking bold action.
- Non-prescriber models of safe supply are critical to saving lives. We heard from health authorities, from the BC Centre for Substance Use, and the BC Association of Chiefs of Police, that we must urgently move towards non-prescriber models and low-barrier safe supply.
- On May 14th, 2021 the B.C. Green Caucus wrote a letter to the premier and the interim leader of the official opposition requesting an all-party committee.
- Nearly ten months later the premier agreed to the Select Standing Committee on Health.
- The B.C. Green Caucus has been calling to incorporate mental health care into the health system for over two years.
- In 2016 the Provincial Health Officer declared the toxic drug crisis a public health emergency.
- Over ten thousand lives have been lost since 2016.
B.C. Green Caucus
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