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 historic home near Granny’s Fruit Stand in Summerland was the home of two of the community’s mayors. J.R. Campbell and Don Cameron both lived at the home on Highway 97 in Summerland, but not at the same time. (Photo courtesy of the Summerland Museum)
Historic house was home to two Summerland mayors

Building along Highway 97 was constructed in 1906

Interior Health reported 91 new COVID-19 cases in the region Jan. 20, 2021 and three additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
95 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health, two deaths

Another member of Vernon’s Noric House has passed

Fiction writing contest
A call to writers in the Okanagan

UBCO holds annual fiction writing contest

Vaccine rollout is focused on health care workers first, especially those dealing with long-term care facilities. (Nathan Denette - Canadian Press)
General public shouldn’t expect vaccines until fall: Interior Health

Interior Health focused on vaccinating long-term and first-line care workers

A mother hold hands with her daughter while sharing about her struggles with addiction during Overdose Awareness Day. (Jesse Major/Black Press file)
Overdose and suicide support group starts in Penticton

Penticton was one of the province’s communities hardest hit by the overdose crisis in 2020

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin sets up for mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Jan. 17, 2021. B.C. is set to to begin its large-scale immunization program for the general public starting in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April

Clinics to immunize four million people by September

Police are searching for an alleged sex offender, Nicole Edwards, who they say has not returned to her Vancouver halfway house. (Police handout)
Police hunt for woman charged in ‘horrific’ assault who failed to return to Surrey halfway house

Call 911 immediately if you see alleged sex offender Nicole Edwards, police say

A screenshot from a local Instagram account video. The account appeared to be frequented by Mission students, and showed violent videos of students assaulting and bullying other students.
Parents, former students describe ‘culture of bullying’ in Mission school district

Nearly two dozen voices come forward speaking of abuse haunting the hallways in Mission, B.C.

Joe Biden, then the U.S. vice-president, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take their seats at the start of the First Ministers and National Indigenous Leaders meeting in Ottawa, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau, Biden to talk today as death of Keystone XL reverberates in Canada

President Joe Biden opposed the Keystone XL expansion as vice-president under Barack Obama

Prince Edward Island’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. A lozenge plant in Prince Edward Island has laid off 30 workers, citing an “almost non-existent” cold and cough season amid COVID-19 restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Almost non-existent’ cold and cough season: P.E.I. lozenge plant lays off 30 workers

The apparent drop in winter colds across the country seems to have weakened demand for medicine and natural remedies

Authorities have confirmed a case of COVID-19 within a school in Kelowna. Someone within the Rutland Elementary School community has tested positive. (Aman Parhar/Omineca Express/FILE)
Authorities confirm COVID-19 exposure in Central Okanagan school

Interior Health (IH) states they will be following up with anyone potentially exposed

Homeless man lying on the bench. (File photo)
Temporary emergency shelter opens in Central Okanagan

The shelter, located at the former location of Tree Brewing, will offer 38 beds

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran said the city won’t look at changing its policy regarding automatic cost of living pay bumps for himself and city councillors, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. (File)
Kelowna won’t look at nixing automatic pay raises for council, mayor

Mayor Colin Basran said the raise is minuscule, won’t look at changing policy amid residents’ COVID struggles

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Police probe U-Haul trailer linked to illicit drugs left outside Cache Creek motel

Hazardous materials found inside believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs

Most Read