BC Nurses’ Union President calls for decriminalization and National Public Health Emergency to combat opioid crisis

BC Nurses' Union President calls for decriminalization and National Public Health Emergency to combat opioid crisis

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The President of the BC Nurses’ Union argues decriminalization of personal possession of all opioids as well as access to a safe opioid supply is the only long-term approach to the ongoing crisis that will save lives

Christine Sorensen is also calling on Ottawa to declare a national public health emergency saying harm reduction alone is not enough.

“BC has some of the most progressive harm reduction programs and policies and has been a leader in promoting supervised injection sites,” said Sorensen.

“Yet the province continues to face one of the worst overdose crises in the country – almost 2,000 British Columbians died of preventable opioid overdose in 2016 and 2017. ”

Sorensen recognizes that the federal government is responding to the crisis with such initiatives as allowing the expansion of supervised injection sites and making naloxone available without prescription, but it is not enough.

“About 90 percent of those who died last year were alone inside a home when they suffered an overdose.  Supervised injection sites alone don’t help these people.” she said.

“We need to stop treating the most vulnerable members of our society like criminals. We’ve learned from countries like Portugal that when you decriminalize, people feel safe enough to ask for treatment.”

Sorensen argues that by declaring the current crisis a National Public Health Emergency under the Emergencies Act, Ottawa can begin to effectively address the issue and reduce preventable deaths.

“There is a growing concern among nurses across BC that more needs to be done,” she said.

“The preventable death of Comox’s Ryan Hedican as just one example of the devastating toll the crisis is taking on families and communities.”

Sorensen is encouraging the public to sign a petition to the House of Commons that was drafted in the wake of Hedican’s death and with the help of community nurses.

The petition calls for the decriminalization of personal possession and safe unadulterated access to substances to prevent poisoning and overdose due to a contaminated source.

Ben O'HaraBen O'Hara

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