Vancouver Sun

Calls for action intensify on overdose anniversar­y

- DIRK MEISSNER & NICK WELLS

Calls for bold, courageous and compassion­ate actions were made Wednesday by top health officials and advocates as B.C. marked the fifth anniversar­y of its deadly overdose crisis.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe and the provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said moves to decriminal­ize possession of drugs, increase safe drug supplies and provide recovery programs are important steps, but more must be done.

The B.C. Coroners Service reports 7,024 illicit drug overdose deaths since the public health emergency was declared in April 2016.

“Death to illicit drug toxicity is now the fourth highest cause of death in B.C.,” Lapointe said at a news conference.

“The average age of those dying is 43. Fentanyl or fentanyl analogues are now detected in 80 per cent of all deaths.”

Dr. Shannon McDonald, acting chief medical officer at the First Nations Health Authority, said toxic drugs continue to take a deadly toll on Indigenous people, with overdose deaths much higher than provincial averages. The Coroners Service, which warned of the social and economic toll of the overdose crisis in reports dating back to the early 1990s, has repeatedly called for more evidence-based addiction treatments, expanded drug use safety options and more support for physicians to link patients to recovery programs, said Lapointe.

“We cannot continue with the current state,” she said. “We must resolve to do much better.”

Henry, who was part of the decision to declare the health emergency five years ago, said progress has been “painfully slow.”

“Too many families have lost too many people for us to do anything less,” she said. “Much has been done, but more, of course, remains to be done.”

The continuing COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an increasing­ly toxic illicit drug supply and heightened anxiety and loneliness for many people with addiction issues, Henry said.

“We need to put as much time and effort and compassion into caring for people who use drugs as we have been to responding to this pandemic,” she said.

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