In the first six months of 2021 more than 1200 British Columbians have perished as a result of a highly toxic illicit drug supply. That is approximately 6 people per day.
For months, I and my colleague Sonia Furstenau, have been encouraging the provincial government to provide a safe supply of illicit substances because the evidence shows it will save lives. In the meantime, the government will have the benefit of time to scale much needed programs such as adequate treatment spaces and successfully lobby the federal government to put in place the legal measures needed to decriminalize personal possession of illicit drugs.
The regulated safe supply program that the province has developed has many barriers. The BC Green Caucus is hearing that these barriers limit access for people. We have been advocating for a regulated, de-medicalized safe supply of the illicit substances that are taking the lives of so many British Columbians.
We have never heard the perspective of Hon. Adrian Dix, Minister of Health, on the matter and so I asked him directly. He never stood. So, I asked him again, and again he never stood to respond.
To be clear, this was not a question about mental health or addictions, this was a direct question to the Minister of Health regarding his perspective on a policy about the safe supply of illicit drugs.
Does the Minister of Health support a regulated de-medicalized safe supply of the illicit substances that are poisoning nearly six British Columbians a day?
Hon. S. Malcolmson:
Because the tragic increased toxicity of illicit street drugs has taken so many lives in British Columbia over the five years of the public health emergency, and despite the number of lives lost dropping in 2019 for the first time and for the first two months of 2020, the pandemic has shot drug toxicity so high. As the coroner has noted, this is directly responsible for the terrible increased loss of life.
Two weeks into the pandemic my friend and predecessor Judy Darcy, along with the support of Dr. Bonnie Henry, brought in a project that they’d already been working on. It needed to be brought in immediately to allow prescribers to connect people who are at risk of overdose with a prescribed safer supply. We’ve talked about this many times in the House. We had feedback, both from people who use drugs and from medical practitioners, that people needed more options. That was the basis for the expansion of the prescribed safer supply that Dr. Henry and I announced in July of this year.
The member for Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.
I didn’t ask the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions her opinion on the matter. I asked the Minister of Health. I understand that the government can stand up whatever minister they want to answer whatever question is asked; however, it’s a specific question to a specific minister.
So I ask again: does the Minister of Health support a regulated de-medicalized safe supply of the illicit substances that are poisoning nearly six British Columbians a day?
Hon. S. Malcolmson:
I am honoured to be asked by the Premier to be his Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. British Columbia was the first province in Canada to establish a ministry and a minister with this single focus. I’m grateful to the health authorities that deliver both substance use and addictions treatment and mental health supports. With the Minister of Health, we are asking a lot, as a province, of our health authorities right now. They are fighting two public health emergencies. They rolled out an unprecedented vaccination campaign in our province’s history, and we are asking health authorities to report to two ministers, both myself, in Mental Health and Addictions, and the rest of the health care file to the Minister of Health. We work well together.
Again I’ll say we’re the only province in Canada to offer people at risk of toxic drug overdose a prescribed safe supply. It is saving lives. I wish it was saving more. We’re working hard with the health authorities to expand it every day.