British Columbians are being urged to contribute to a government consultation on the toxic drug emergency, which continues to see an average of more than six residents die of an overdose every day.
The public consultation is part of the provincial standing committee on health, which was formed earlier this year and involves MLAs from all three provincial parties.
It aims to provide recommendations to the government on how to stop an increasing number of people dying from a poisoned illicit-drug supply in the province.
Figures released Thursday show BC is on track to match last year’s record of 2,265 overdose deaths, with 940 deaths recorded from January until May.
“It’s really important that we open this up to the public, because this is an issue that is affecting people everywhere in British Columbia, across all sectors,” said BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, a member of the standing committee.
Fatal drug overdoses are the most common cause of unnatural death in BC — more common than homicides, suicides, car accidents, drownings and fire deaths combined.
Furstenau said the committee had already heard from numerous stakeholders on the issue of the poisoned drug supply.
They include Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe and representatives from the BC Métis Federation and Indigenous healing initiatives.
“One of the things that is really striking for me is there is no shortage of solutions from people who are experts in myriad ways,” Furstenau said. “What we need right now is the political will and the political courage to implement those solutions so that we stop losing so many people.
“This drug supply is killing people, and we have to implement these solutions with urgency.”
The public consultation is now open on the legislature’s website, accessible through this link.
Public can provide 4 recommendations
The government says the public can provide up to four recommendations to tackle the crisis, including actions to take, how existing services can be improved, and how to “address the harm done by the increasingly toxic and unpredictable illicit supply”.
Juls Budau, a graduate student who does research on a prescribed safe supply of drugs, says the existing safe supply in BC doesn’t reach enough people to meaningfully alter the course of the emergency.
She also says the government’s current response is not what drug user groups have been asking for. Currently, the province says it is focused primarily on addiction treatment and an upcoming initiative to decriminalize possession of small amounts of drugs.
“I think the stigma still prevails … whatever the drug user groups are asking for is seen as irresponsible or criminal,” she said. “Right now, we’re in a matter of life and death.
“Imagine if people were dying of a poisoned alcohol supply, and then everybody who wanted to drink was just put into treatment.”
Budau says the current life-saving measures in place in BC, including overdose prevention sites and needle exchanges, were once criminalized until the medical establishment came around on them. She says they should be listening to drug users when it comes to safe supply.
Some of the measures Budau says the public should consider supporting are compassion clubs and prescribed safer supply, and government-supported indigenous healing centres.
Budau, who is based in Prince George, BC, says the poisoned drug supply affects people around the province and so the public should also voice support for more decentralized services — so people in rural and northern BC are able to access safer drugs and services.
“The government should be setting up a province-wide prescriber framework,” she said. “I hope that they commit a lot more funding to these healing centers … detox is not very accessible in the north.”
The public consultation page is open until Aug. 5. The standing committee is set to provide recommendations to the government in November.