Since the toxic drug crisis was declared in 2016, more than 11,000 British Columbians have died. It’s the leading cause of unnatural deaths. But these deaths are preventable. Less than 1% of people who use drugs in this province have access to safe supply.
Hundreds of thousands of British Columbians use drugs — whether daily, on the weekends, or once in a while. The BC NDP says that saving their lives is a top priority. Yet, 99% of people only have access to the toxic supply that kills 6 people every day.
This government could expand safe supply & save thousands of lives, but they’re more concerned about their political viability. As Moms Stop The Harm says, “it’s a result of stigma & lack of will”. We are 7 years into this toxic drug crisis. The BC NDP must do better.
Today I asked Minister Whiteside when she & the BC NDP will expand safe supply for anyone who needs it. Unfortunately, her response conveyed a lack of urgency & failed to inspire confidence that this toxic drug crisis will be curbed anytime soon.
New data shows Indigenous people are nearly 6 times more likely to die from toxic drugs compared to the rest of the population. The First Nations Health Authority says Indigenous people have even worse access to treatment, including safe supply. This is deeply saddening.
This government is ignoring the advice of its own experts. The Chief Coroner’s death review panel asked them to go further on safe supply, through medical prescription & compassion club models. Yet, expanded safe supply and compassion club access is nowhere to be seen.
As a result of their policy failures & refusal to heed the advice of experts, the BC NDP are enabling mass death & disproportionately harming Indigenous peoples. Premier David Eby and his government need to act & urgently expand safe supply. Lives literally depend on it.
More than 11,000 British Columbians have died from toxic illicit drugs since 2016. It’s the leading cause of unnatural deaths in our province, and these deaths are preventable.
Of all the people who use drugs in this province, less than 1 percent can access safe supply, according to this government’s own numbers. Hundreds of thousands of British Columbians use drugs and 100,000 of those people have an opioid dependence. This government says that saving lives is their first priority, and yet 99 percent of the people who use drugs, whether daily, on the weekends or just once in a while, or just once, only have access to a toxic supply that is killing thousands of British Columbians.
This government could expand safe supply and save thousands of lives, but they’re concerned about their own political viability. As Moms Stop the Harm writes: “It’s the result of stigma and lack of will on the part of policy makers.”
My question is to the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. When will she expand safe supply to anyone who needs it in this province?
Hon. J. Whiteside:
I thank the member for raising a very important question with respect to work that we have done in this province that is ahead of where many other jurisdictions are at with respect to supporting individuals who use drugs, working to create measures to try and separate individuals from the toxic drug supply.
We stood up our prescribed safer supply program in the midst of the early days of COVID through our risk mitigation guidelines on the advice of public health officials in order to try to support individuals in the midst of the pandemic and in the midst of the profound disruption that the pandemic brought.
We’re working very hard with providers, with our health authorities, with physicians, with regulatory bodies, to expand the availability of prescribed safer supply. We are adding more and more physicians, and nurse practitioners are stepping up every month to provide those services. We know the regulatory bodies are working. Health authorities are working.
We’ll continue to do that work. We understand the importance of measures to separate people from the toxic drug supply.
House Leader of the Third Party, supplemental.
This government should be acknowledged for taking the first step, but the steps are not going far enough.
Data released found that First Nations people are five times more likely to die from toxic drug poisoning than the rest of the population. Indigenous women died at 11 times the rate of other women in British Columbia. The First Nations Health Authority said that First Nations people have even worse access to substance use treatment, including safe supply, than the rest of the population. This mass death is the result of policy failures and policies that do not go far enough, and it’s disproportionately harming First Nations people.
The B.C. NDP government is ignoring the advice of its own experts. The chief coroner acknowledged the longest public health emergency in the province’s history, calling it a crisis of incomprehensible scale. The chief coroner’s death review panel asked this government to go further on safe supply through medical prescription and compassion club models. Expanded safe supply and compassion clubs access is nowhere to be seen in British Columbia.
My question is to the Premier. Why has he not supported the expansion of safe supply to stop the mass casualties that we’re seeing month after month after month and, in fact, year after year after year?
Hon. J. Whiteside:
I do want to just acknowledge and thank the member for raising the disproportionate impact of this crisis on Indigenous people. I am grateful to the work that is done through the First Nations Health Authority, working very closely with the First Nations Health Council, First Nations and our regional health authorities to identify those gaps in care and supports for Indigenous people that are so critical for us to work on to turn the tide on the toxic drug crisis.
Since March 2020, nearly 12,000 people have been connected with prescribed safer supply. In February, 2023, over 4,800 people received a prescribed safer supply and 330 of these were people who we connected to a prescription for the first time.
That’s very important progress in terms of having those individuals in a system connected with care, so that we can continue to support that individual on their wellness journey. I know that the coroner has done important work with respect to looking at how safe supply is working and has confirmed that safe supply is a helpful and important tool, as our public health officials have also advised.
Work is underway to evaluate how prescribed safer supply is being offered. We are working with all of our partners to scale up that program, so that we can separate more people from the toxic drug supply.