Advocates call for regulated safe supply as B.C.’s drug emergency hits year seven


It’s an anniversary no one in B.C. is celebrating.

“I lost my son on August 30th of 2022,” said Jessica Michalofsky in Victoria, Friday.

“In 2016 my son died three weeks after the declaration of this emergency,” added Jennifer Howard, who is now a drug policy analyst with Moms Stop The Harm.

Friday marked the 7th anniversary of  when British Columbia declared a public health emergency due to an increasing number of overdoses.

In 2015, overdose deaths reached 529. Last year, the toxic drug supply claimed nearly 2,300 lives in the province.

“Death from toxic drugs is now the leading cause of death for British Columbians ages 10 to 59. Your 13-year-old is more likely to die from toxic drugs than a fall from his bike,” said Michalofsky.

In Comox, Judith Conway’s back fence has become a stark memorial for the 11,300 victims claimed by a toxic drug supply in B.C. over the last seven years, and the 33,000 who have died across Canada.

For Conway, it began with the personal loss of her son Matthew in November 2017. He had just turned 30 and had been in and out of rehab after being prescribed OxyContin following a bad crash two years earlier.

Her nephew also died of an overdose.

“Nobody wants that. Nobody wants to be a drug addict,” said Conway. “They don’t. They did not choose that lifestyle.”

Her fence is painted with hearts, in them the names of victims — as well as pictures of many others who have died.

And laid out behind her fence is a 100-foot-long piece of fabric that’s covered with names, designs and pieces of yarn to represent each death in 2017 alone.

Eventually she had to stop adding to it, saying it had become too much. Now years later as deaths continue to rise, families are frustrated.

“Why can this not be handled? We just went through a pandemic. More people have died of an overdose in the same time period,” said Conway.

Groups like Moms Stop the Harm are calling for a regulated, safe supply of substances to end the deaths.

“Policy makers, our politicians have to have the courage to do the right thing, provide an equal response to this emergency as we saw with Covid,” said Howard.

RELATED: 22 overdoses in one night: Ex-paramedic looks back on 7th anniversary of B.C. crisis

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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