It is a crisis that shows no signs of abating – a medical emergency threatening the lives of countless British Columbians.
No, it is not the COVID-19 pandemic, but drug overdoses that have claimed the lives of 554 B.C. residents during the first five months of the year.
And an unexpected source is prescribing a new method to battle the rising tide of overdose deaths.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police is is calling for the decriminalization of simple possession of illicit drugs, saying simple possession arrests have proven ineffective and do not save lives.
B.C. Premier John Horgan is strongly backing the call by national police chiefs.
“Anything that we can do to reduce the deaths and reduce the dependence, and quite frankly, to free up law enforcement to do other things, I support,” he said.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has also strongly advocated for a shift from criminal sanctions to a health-based approach to dealing with drug addiction. In April, Henry said the province can do more without Ottawa changing the Criminal Code.
“The predominantly criminal-justice-based approach to psychoactive substance use has given the overwhelming balance of power to law enforcement as a policy tool in the context of attempting to prevent harms from substances,” Henry wrote in a report issued April 24.
Moms Stop the Harm and South Island Community Overdose Response Network staged a rally in Victoria last month aimed at ending the war on drugs and mobilizing for sustainable alternatives.
“Having people go through the revolving door of the justice system is not getting at the root of what is a public health problem,” said Jenny Howard, who lost her 24-year-old son to an overdose in 2016. “This is really a health issue and as a health issue, it is a human rights issue that is not being properly addressed.”
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