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B.C. marks its 7th anniversary of the toxic drug crisis

It has been seven years since B.C. declared a public health emergency over the toxic drug crisis.

The province was the first jurisdiction in the country to make that declaration — on April 14, 2016.

About 11,000 British Columbians have lost their lives to the toxic, unregulated drug supply, which in many cases, includes fentanyl.

Seven years later, officials say they’re seeing only slight signs of improvements in policies to help drug users, but add the advancement is not fast enough.

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Leslie McBain lost her 25-year-old son to toxic drugs after he got hooked on oxycontin following an accident. She’s now an advocate for harm reduction policies, and a driving force behind Moms Stop the Harm.

“I’m not sure, because I wasn’t with him, but what it looks like happened is he couldn’t find enough oxy, or he couldn’t afford it. He had doctor-shopped, and he got several opioids and just the cocktail that he mixed for himself … of these drugs to help him not withdraw, killed him,” she said.

When the declaration was made in early 2016, overdose deaths had reached 474 the year before. Last year, nearly 2,300 people died due to toxic drugs in B.C.

Former provincial medical health officer Dr. Perry Kendall says that had officials known at the time what they know now, they could’ve pushed harder for safe supply.

“What I think was needed at a time, had we known, and it’s still very contentious, is the whole issue of increasing safe supply and actually getting enough good medications in stock for people who are actually trying to get into treatment,” he said.

The anniversary comes as the BC Emergency Health Services released grim statistics Thursday.

B.C. set records for the most overdose calls in one day and the highest 30-day average of calls last month.

The province also broke the record for the most consecutive days where paramedics attended 100 or more poisonings.

In a joint statement Friday morning, Premier David Eby, Jennifer Whiteside, minister of mental health and addictions, and Dr. Bonnie Henry say it is with “heavy hearts and deep grief” that the province marks the 7th anniversary.

“We mourn with each and every British Columbian who has lost a loved one, family member, or friend to this crisis. Each loss is devasting to our communities. No words can ease the pain of those left behind by loved ones after their lives were cut short by the poisoned drug supply.

“Today, we deepen our resolve to save lives and improve lives, even as the COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts have made the drug supply even more toxic for people in our province. Budget 2023’s historic $1 billion in targeted investments will continue this work and will focus on scaling up detox, treatment, and recovery services across the full spectrum of care, so people can find and stay connected to vital supports on their wellness journey,” they said.

Prevention is key, the government officials say, adding that’s why the province is working on providing housing, food security, and crisis supports.

“We know there is much more to do. We extend our heartfelt thanks to all front-line workers and peers who make heroic efforts every single day to support those in distress and crisis.

“Our goal is to always be there with the support and care people need, when they need it to save lives and change lives for the better. This work takes all of us, together, and it’s more important now than ever.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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