Premier John Horgan (The Canadian Press)

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

A town was constructed on the side of a mountain top in Hedley to extract 7.1 tonnes of gold. (Mascotmine.com photo)
Hedley’s Mascot Mine gets $800,000 lift from COVID relief program

Grant will enable the historic mine to open again for tourists

Pathways Addictions Centre is in jeopardy of closing after Interior Health has pulled all its funding and will be taking over addiction services ‘in house’ as up May 31. (Facebook)
Future of Penticton addictions centre in jeopardy after Interior Health pulls funding

Pathways has been in Penticton for over 20 years and has 10 staff, serving around 1,000 people

A man wearing a mask against coronavirus walks past an NHS advertisement about COVID-19 in London, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
92 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths: Interior Health

The region is reporting 92 cases after the weekend

Ponderosa Primary Care Centre in Penticton is considered a model for care clinics going forward by the South Okanagan Division of Family Practice. (Monique Tamminga)
Mayor of Oliver calls on province to address South Okanagan doctor shortage

‘None of the people in our acquaintance that we’ve come to know here in Oliver have their own doctor’

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen has implemented extended hours at four landfills, beginning March 1, 2020. (Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen photo)
Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen extends landfill hours

Summer hours at four facility take effect March 1, 2021.

(Photo by Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze)
B.C. WHL teams to hit the ice with Kelowna, Kamloops hub cities

Kelowna, Kamloops centres chosen to host B.C. WHL teams for 24-game regular season

Needles are seen on the ground in Oppenheimer park in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on March 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s chief coroner says increased drug toxicity responsible for record overdose deaths in January

165 people – the largest number of lives lost due to illicit drugs in the first month of a calendar year

Canadian Mental Health Association staff and volunteers experienced increased Crisis Line calls with COVID-related concerns. (CMHA photo)
North Okanagan MP pushes for national suicide hotline

Mel Arnold seeks support from North Okanagan-Shuswap municipalities for 988 hotline

Okanagan College
Okanagan College holds March Madness fundraiser

Money from the fundraiser will go to support the Okanagan College Foundation

Penticton city council has unanimously shot down an application from BC Housing to keep a shelter for people experiencing homelessness open for an additional year. (Jesse Day - Western News)
Penticton council denies extension of cold weather shelter

The Victory Church shelter will now be told to cease operations April 1

(Black Press file photo)
Penticton man arrested while sleeping in stolen vehicle, again

30-year-old Penticton resident Shane Pope is well-known to police

The machines are akin to ATMs and allow drug users at risk of overdose to get hydromorphone pills dispensed to them after their palm has been scanned to identify its unique vein pattern. (CANADIAN PRESS)
Feds dole out $3.5M for ‘vending machines’ to dispense safer opioids in B.C.

Vancouver and Victoria both have a MySafe machine to help reduce overdoses

Ice rescue on Shannon Lake. Phil McLachlan, Kelowna Capital News.
‘Ice season is over’; West Kelowna crews rescue man from icy lake

A man in his 60’s was pulled from the waters of Shannon Lake after falling through

Most Read