Victoria mayor calls on feds for action on safe drug supply as B.C.’s opioid health crisis passes six-year mark

Victoria mayor calls on feds for action on safe drug supply as B.C.'s opioid health crisis passes six-year mark
A rally was held at Centennial Square imploring the B.C. government to do more to address the overdose crisis. April 14, 2022.

Victoria’s mayor, Lisa Helps, is calling on the federal government for action on allowing B.C. to deploy a safe drug supply as the opioid health emergency in the province passes the six-year mark.

Helps issued a statement on Thursday requesting the federal government listen to the Province and allow for an exemption from Health Canada under Section 56(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

An exemption would allow B.C. to provide access to a safe, medically-regulated drug supply, which Helps — along with multiple other government officials — believes will save lives.

“Victoria City Council has repeatedly called for action on the toxic drug poisoning crisis that is happening in our city and province. We’ve urged both the federal and provincial governments to create more treatment beds, implement safe supply and decriminalize small amounts of drugs for personal use. These actions reduce stigma and they save lives,” reads a statement from Victoria’s mayor.

On Thursday, groups rallied at Centennial Square calling on the provincial government to do more to address the crisis.

Dave Connell lost his 27-year-old grandson Derek Michel, who was a beekeper and DJ. Connell says his loss has left a massive hole.

“It’s hard to describe what it’s like to lose your grandson who’s also just a wonderful person,” Connell said.

Cathy and Dave Broughton lost their son Aaron just six months ago. They say the 35-year-old artist, who adored his pet rabbit., wasn’t a regular substance user but died of toxic drugs, at home, alone.

“He didn’t want to die, he loved life. We just really miss him and we just want to be here to support other families who are going through this,” Cathy Broughton said.

Recent data released from the BC Coroners Service says that there have been over 9,400 deaths from drug toxicity since the start of the public health emergency, which began back in 2016.

The BC Coroners Service released data up until February 2022 earlier this week, with at least 174 lives being lost in the second month of this year.

February became the 17th consecutive month in which more than 150 lives were lost to illicit drugs in B.C. The 174 deaths equate to approximately 6.2 deaths per day.

The majority of the deaths during that span have taken place in three cities in B.C., Victoria being one of them.

“These are preventable deaths. Our health care system fully vaccinated over 90 per cent of British Columbians against COVID-19 in just over a year,” said Helps. “We know there is capacity for action. This same level of commitment and action is required to get safe prescription supply into the hands of those who need it, so that a substance use disorder is treated like a medical issue, rather than a criminal issue.”

Helps feels that the supply of illicit drugs in British Columbia has become so toxic that officials can’t hope to address the issue without a safe supply.

“Today we are six years into an ‘emergency’. In year seven, all levels of government and our health care system must act to address this emergency. We call on the federal government to support our provincial government’s request for an exemption from Health Canada under Section 56(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, to help us meet substance use with the public health approach it deserves,” says Helps.

Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner with the BC Coroners Service, says illicit drugs are so toxic that fentanyl is killing 80 per cent of substance users and an overdose-reversing drug is increasingly not useful because substances often contain a benzodiazepine that knocks people out.

Lapointe echoed Helps’ statement, saying she’s frustrated that 2,232 people died of overdose last year, but emergency action hasn’t happened during a public health emergency that seems to have no end.

She says it’s time for a novel response that would also include a clear path to treatment so people aren’t dying on wait lists, as well as research into whether services offered by private organizations are effective.

The chief coroner also believes that the province needs to bring together a panel of experts for a coordinated response because the public is increasingly realizing that addiction is a health issue that isn’t getting the full attention it deserves.

The data recently released outlines that 78 per cent of those dying from toxic drugs were men and 86 per cent of deaths so far in 2022 have been inside.

No deaths to date have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.

Graham CoxGraham Cox
April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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