CMHA BC offers heartfelt condolences to the families, loved ones and communities of the 1,716 people who tragically lost their lives in 2020 as a result of illicit drug use in British Columbia.
The BC Coroner’s report, released yesterday, details illicit drug toxicity deaths in BC over the last ten years and highlights the devastating converging impact of the COVID-19 and drug toxicity public health crises have had on every community within our Province in 2020. Statistics reveal an increase of 74 per cent in unintentional overdose deaths last year.
“The overdose and drug toxicity epidemic continue to contribute to a devastating loss of human life in our province. An already grave situation is now more deadly than ever before due to factors closely related to the pandemic,” says Jonny Morris, CEO of CMHA BC Division.
Since the onset of the pandemic, people who use substances have faced increased toxicity of street drugs due to the impacts of border closures, decreased access to harm reduction services, supervised consumption services and overdose prevention services, barriers to accessing treatment and health services, and health risks due to withdrawal during self-isolation or quarantine.
“More action is within our power and urgently needed to prevent deaths and connect people to health and harm reduction services. The Province’s roll out of safer pharmaceutical alternatives to street drugs, investments in treatment and recovery, and calls upon the Federal Government for an exemption to decriminalize illicit drugs are important steps, and the release of the coroner’s data demonstrates that all effective interventions need to be on the table,” says Morris.
CMHA BC supports a continued public health approach to substance use that promotes health and equity for people who use drugs through decriminalization, safe alternatives to the toxic drug supply and more investment in a spectrum of evidence-based care that ranges from prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery services.
In addition to calling on the federal government to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Province should use the powers under the provincial Police Act to set broad priorities that uphold the principles and actions of harm reduction, such as diverting people to health services and exploring alternatives to criminal charges for simple possession. Policy amendments such as these would help reduce stigma associated with drug use, create conditions for safer use, and open up pathways to treatment.
The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions’ recent announcement of $13 million in funding for not-for-profit and private recovery and treatment service providers is a critical step towards building out BC’s system of care. CMHA BC is proud to support the administration of these funds in partnership with the Province and health authorities and urges further investment across both the public and non-profit sectors, alongside movement towards decriminalization.
In 2018, in response to escalating rates of opioid-related harms in Canada and the connections with mental illness and addictions, the Canadian Mental Health Association reviewed the best available scientific evidence on opioid use and examined drug policies from across Canada and around the world to develop Care not Corrections, an in-depth evidence-based policy paper directed at government, policy makers and health organizations.