It is close to six years now ,since the Government of British Columbia declared that toxic drug abuse had become a public health emergency. It had become the leading cause of unnatural deaths in BC.
A few days ago, Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe reported on the government’s immediate reaction and the general public’s response to the alarming news that drug dealers are in control of relatively easy ways to purchase a ticket for a ride from an overdose to an agonizing death.
The apparent totality of that reaction was the sounding of a warning siren to “take care” when buying pills because unscrupulous dealers are boosting them with Fentanyl, Carfentanil and Benzodiazepine. And we, the easily lead, are asked to accept it is sufficient that our leaders and protectors recognized the dangers in our back alleys and dark places and so quickly alerted us to the risks of living dangerously.
It is true that five or six years ago, we were in a bit of a mess politically in BC. We had a crazy election result that saw Christy Clark’s Liberals win a general election but lose the right to govern when NDP leader John Horgan and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver agreed to a marriage of convenience.
Our always-precocious West Coast politics remained a little unstable until 2020 when Premier John Horgan called a snap election, won it handily with a solid majority and formed a government that appears to be holding its own in the face of the menace of COVID-19.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the dirtier fight to rid our streets of the toxic – read: ‘poisoned-by-dealers’ – pills that promise brief respite from life’s problems and deliver a quick and frightening dead end.
In her monthly lament, Chief Coroner Lapointe said that the government’s reluctance to take the appropriate action will “be a stain on our province for decades to come.”
“This crisis is not going to turn itself around; this crisis needs some true intervention on a meaningful provincial scale,” she said.
“According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, drug toxicity comes second only to cancers in terms of total potential years of life lost in our province,” Lapointe said. “By comparison, COVID-19 is 12th.”
October 2021 saw a monthly record bring total street drug deaths so far this year to 1,782. Last year, we lost 1,765 in the same period.
The death rate is currently sitting at 41.2 deaths per 100,000 residents. More than 70 per cent of deaths are among those aged 30 to 59 – the median age is 43. Most who have died are men. Since the start of the official public health emergency in April 2016, more than 8,500 people have died.
Lapointe, who sees the result of toxic drug use and is responsible for investigating causes of death, has consistently recommended “safe supply.” Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau’s appeal for an emergency all-party legislative committee, presumably to study that and shape legislation that would “end this brutal loss of life,” continues to fall on deaf ears.
Furstenau, quoted in The Tyee online publication, says her all-party committee could “be bold” and “take politics out of the process.” That’s what the Legislature did in its immediate challenge to COVID-19 when, like Camelot, “for one bright shining moment,” it was united in common cause.
Unfortunately, it has not demonstrated a desire to unite in common cause to address toxic drug deaths. “Simply put,” says Lapointe, “we are failing.”