Premier John Horgan (The Canadian Press)

B.C. premier asks Trudeau to decriminalize illicit drug possession as deaths climb

A record 175 people died in June of illicit-drug overdoses

British Columbia’s premier is urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take an “enormous step” to reduce stigma associated with illicit drug use by decriminalizing possession for personal use.

In a letter sent Monday to the prime minister, John Horgan says people in B.C. are experiencing unprecedented rates of overdose-related harms, including deaths because of the toxic street drug supply.

The letter says criminal prohibitions are ineffective in deterring drug use and criminalization prevents people from seeking the help they need.

Horgan says he supports the recent call by Canada’s police chiefs to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use as the best way to battle addiction.

He says his ministers will reach out to their federal counterparts to take further steps.

The BC Coroners Service said last week that a record 175 people died in June of illicit-drug overdoses, surpassing the previous record of 171 deaths just a month before.

READ MORE: Nearly 6 people died from overdoses each day in June as B.C. sees continued spike

A public health emergency was declared in 2016 and since then about 5,000 people in B.C. have died from illicit-drug overdoses, with many caused by the powerful opioid fentanyl.

“Behind these statistics lies a very personal tragedy,” Horgan says. “We are losing our family members and our friends, our neighbours and our colleagues. We must do more.”

READ MORE: Parallel crises: How COVID-19 has exacerbated the drug overdose emergency

Overdose continues to be the leading cause of unnatural death in B.C. and life expectancy at birth is declining in the province largely due to the overdose crisis, he says.

By changing the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize possession for personal use, “the federal government would take an enormous step to reduce the systemic stigma associated with illicit drug use and support people to access the services that they need to stay safe and start their path to recovery,” Horgan says.

The federal Ministry of Health said in a statement Monday it has expanded the accessibility of vital health and social services for people who use drugs.

“These actions include supporting the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, funding programs like drug treatment courts for those whose substance use contributes to their offending, supporting enhanced access to harm reduction services such as supervised consumption sites, access to pharmaceutical-grade medications, also known as safer supply, and an expanded range of treatment options,” it said.

“Our government remains committed to advancing evidence-based responses to help reverse the trend of opioid overdose deaths and other substance-related harms in Canada.”

READ MORE: ‘Lifeguard’ app launches as a made-in-B.C. solution to help prevent overdose deaths

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has proposed increasing access to health care, treatment and social services in order to divert people away from the criminal justice system, which would apply to those in possession of a small amount of illicit drugs for personal consumption.

It also called for the creation of a national task force to research drug policy reform that looked at the law that covers simple possession.

Association president and Vancouver Chief Const. Adam Palmer has said that the fentanyl crisis and a poisoned drug supply have devastated communities and taken thousands of lives across Canada.

“We recommend that enforcement for possession give way to an integrated health-focused approach that requires partnerships between police, health care and all levels of government.”

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has also called for the decriminalization of people who possess small amounts of drugs, saying people use substances for many reasons.

“Nobody grows up thinking ‘I want to be addicted to substances, I want to have a substance use disorder, I want to have this controlling my life,’” she said last week.

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

B.C. overdosesDrugsopioid crisis

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sternwheelers once plied Okanagan Lake

Vessels once transported passengers and goods along the Okanagan Valley

Fires ignite on Revelstoke’s Mt. Begbie; Kamloops Fire Centre blazes holding

Crews working throughout region over holiday weekend to contain wildfires

QUIZ: How much do you know about British Columbia?

On this B.C. Day long weekend, put your knowledge of our province to the test

QUIZ: How much do you know about British Columbia?

On this B.C. Day long weekend, put your knowledge of our province to the test

Fourteen blazes sparked in Kamloops Fire Centre

Lightning the suspected cause of all fires but one; cause of Solco Creek blaze remains unknown

VIDEO: Otter pups learn to swim at B.C. wildlife rescue facility

Watch Critter Care’s Nathan Wagstaffe help seven young otters go for their first dip

Michael Buble among 13 British Columbians to receive Order of B.C.

Ceremony will be delayed to 2021 due to COVID-19

U.S. border communities feel loss of Canadian tourists, shoppers and friends

Restrictions on non-essential travel across the Canada-U.S. border have been in place since March 2`

Rollout of COVID-19 Alert app faces criticism over accessibility

App requires users to have Apple or Android phones made in the last five years, and a relatively new operating system

Reported Big White wildfire dubbed ‘smoke chase’

Crews responded to the area but could not locate a fire

Alleged impaired driver sparks small wildfire near Lytton after crash: B.C. RCMP

Good Samaritans prevented the blaze from getting out of control

Wildfire in West Kelowna’s Rose Valley grows to 3 hectares

The fire was first reported at around 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 2.

Man found dead in van on Okanagan road

Foul play not suspected in death of 39-year-old West Kelowna man found in Vernon Saturday, Aug. 1

Most Read