Family members and friends of those who have died or are struggling with the overdose crisis gathered in downtown Victoria on Friday afternoon.
Dozens attended the rally in front of the Ministry of Health building downtown, calling on the government to take action.
“I think for all of us that have lost loved ones, it’s heartbreaking,” said Jennifer Howard, one of the organizers of the event. “And for those of us that are advocating for individuals that are struggling, we can’t waste any more time talking, we can’t waste any more time hearing of more deaths in this province.”
Howard’s son, Robby Cunningham, died alone in his home from an accidental overdose in 2016. Four years later, Howard is making sure her son’s story isn’t forgotten.
“I don’t want another mother to go through what I have experienced in the loss of my child,” she said.
Overdose numbers continue to rise in the province and the past two months have seen record highs. There were 175 overdose deaths in June, breaking the previous set record in May of 171.
“Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, it has gone simply through the roof,” said Fred Cameron, operations manager with SOLID Outreach Society. “These are numbers unprecedented, we’ve not seen anything like this in the past.”
A reason behind this spike is the inconsistency in the potency of supply.
“The dope is three times stronger, sometimes more than that even,” Cameron explained. “From day to day, you can get something that’s five per cent or you can get something that’s 25 percent, you don’t know exactly what you’re getting.”
Decriminalizing drugs is one way to make sure the supply is safe and consistent, Cameron said. That would, in turn, decrease overdose death numbers.
In April 2019, B.C.’s top doctor released a report recommending the province “urgently move to decriminalize people who possess controlled substances for personal use.”
Dr. Bonnie Henry also noted “the province cannot wait for action at the federal level.” She suggested two options for decriminalization at the provincial level.
The first is the minister of public safety and solicitor general declaring a public health and harm reduction approach to guide law enforcement. The other option is to amend the Police Act to prevent police from spending money on the enforcement of simple possession offences.
In a statement to CHEK News, Judy Darcy, the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, said the province is moving forward on many fronts when it comes to the crisis, including connecting people to treatment and recovery supports and services.
“We are building more treatment beds, creating substance use teams, strengthening supportive recovery, increasing access to safe prescription alternatives, embedding mental health and addictions in primary care, and expanding the network of Foundry centres for youth,” Darcy wrote.
When it comes to decriminalization, however, Darcy said that is “really something for the federal government to do,” noting that they support these changes.
Darcy added that the premier also wrote to the Prime Minister earlier this month urging the federal government to develop a national plan to decriminalize the possession of controlled substances for personal use.
Howard, however, says that’s not enough.
“We have a plan laid out by our own [provincial] health officer… where she urgently recommended our province enact decriminalization,” she said. “So we know that’s there and we need the political courage in our province to make sure this happens sooner rather than later.”