B.C. marks Overdose Awareness Day as toxic drug supply continues to kill

Thursday marks International Overdose Awareness Day, when people across the world are remembering those who died from toxic drugs.

In B.C., the annual day comes after yet another devastating update on deaths related to the unregulated toxic drug supply. On Wednesday, the BC Coroners Service announced nearly 200 people died in July from the toxic drug supply in the province, marking the 13th consecutive month in B.C. that saw more than 190 deaths.

The province says International Overdose Awareness Day is meant to also reduce the stigma around drug-related deaths, with acknowledgments that “the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have died or suffered an injury” as a result of drugs.

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“In British Columbia, we’ve had more than 12,000 people die of overdose since we declared the public health emergency in this province in 2016. Devastating for families of those who have passed, friends, colleagues. Every life lost is one life too many in the overdose crisis,” B.C. Premier David Eby said Thursday.

“I wanted to take a moment to first of all underline the importance of our shared work with so many professionals across the province to respond to this crisis — health professionals, addiction professionals — and also recognize the impact on families and individuals right across British Columbia and around the world.”

Calls for action continue

In a statement posted to social media, the BC Nurses’ Union is renewing its calls for action to reduce stigma and support those affected by the toxic drug crisis.

The union is encouraging all healthcare providers and the greater community to “unite … Together, we can turn the tide of this crisis, support those in need, and work to ensure that no one has to suffer alone in silence.”

The BCNU says it supports the work of community members and advocacy groups — like Moms Stop the Harm — who call for preventative health-care policies to address the crisis and save lives.

“These include expanded harm reduction services like safe consumption sites, better access to safe supply, province-wide investments in mental health, treatment, and recovery services, and ending the criminalization of people who use drugs.

“It is essential that nurses and all health-care providers unite in the commitment to reduce stigma and provide compassionate care to those in need,” the union said.

Deaths continue at staggering rate in 2023

The latest figures from the BC Coroners Service show roughly 6.4 deaths per day were attributed to the unregulated toxic drug supply in July.

Between January and July, there were at least 1,455 deaths reported from drugs. This, the service says, is the largest number reported by the agency in the first seven months of a calendar year.

“I am saddened to once again report that British Columbia’s toxic drug crisis shows no signs of abating,” Chief Coroner Lisa Lapoint said Wednesday.

Earlier this year, the province became the first in Canada to decriminalize small amounts of drugs for personal consumption.

Supports are available to anyone looking for help. You can find more information on the B.C. government’s website about substance use and addiction programs.

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