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Posts Tagged "overdose"

31Aug

Woman refuses to burn out her torch as she marks Overdose Awareness Day, crisis

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Tabitha Montgomery with free materials she’s distributing to B.C. libraries.


Francis Georgian / Postmedia News

It was during the International Overdose Awareness Day activities last year when Tabitha Montgomery really noticed it — events that had once been rallies had become vigils.

“There was a feeling that no one was listening. That it was not making a difference,” she recalled Saturday as she set up an information booth at the Vancouver Public Library.

Montgomery’s booth was one of several awareness activities happening in B.C. this weekend to mark International Overdose Awareness Day, a global movement designed to remember those who have died from drug overdoses. And to push for change.

However, some advocacy groups that organized activities in the past were noticeably absent from this year’s list of planned events.

Montgomery attributed that to burnout.

“It can be difficult to keep going,” she said. “I want to thank those who have been paving the path for so long.”

Montgomery’s father, her best friend and her daughter’s father all died from drugs. She believes the only way to end the overdose crisis is to remove the stigma and judgment around drug use and addiction and bring the issue fully into mainstream health care.

“This is a torch in my heart,” she said.

While she doesn’t represent any single group, the former director with From Grief to Action has had success asking B.C. libraries to display free books on grief and addiction in their community resources sections. She’s hoping to get the material into more libraries in the months ahead.

(Postmedia News photo by Francis Georgian)

In a statement, B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy recognized those who have died are “parents, children, co-workers, neighbours, partners, friends and loved ones.”

The politician said the B.C. Centre for Disease Control estimates 4,700 deaths have been averted by scaled-up distribution of Naloxone, more overdose prevention sites and better access to medication-assisted treatment, known as opioid agonist treatment.

“We have a responsibility to each other, our communities and the loved ones we have lost to keep compassion, respect and understanding at the forefront of our minds — and to continue to escalate our response,” she said.

In June, 73 people died of suspected illicit drug overdoses across the province, a 35 per cent drop from June 2018 when 113 people died, according to data collected by the B.C. Coroner’s Service.

But Montgomery said addiction is still treated like a “moral and criminal issue,” rather than a health issue.

“There’s so much misunderstanding,” she said.

Overdose awareness events were held around the world, including in many B.C. cities such as Vancouver, New Westminster, Kamloops, Kelowna, Powell River, Prince George and Quesnel.

In Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the Overdose Prevention Society supported the creation of a mural in the alley near its injection site. The project wrapped up with an art show.

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28Aug

Support needed for overdose survivors living with brain damage, B.C. doctors say

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It’s been three years since Valerie Wilson’s son suffered a brain injury following a drug overdose.

The Port Moody mother calls her son “fearless”. He was an ironworker by trade who taught himself how to ride a two-wheel bike as a toddler.

But the overdose affected his sense of balance, speech, and temperament, Wilson said, leaving him unable to pursue his former career and some of his favourite pastimes.

“He used to love high places. Now he has a fear of heights because he tends to fall over,” she said. “He lashes out at people but without the intent to be harmful — he’ll get incredibly angry about things that make no sense to be angry about.”

In the past year, B.C. has successfully brought overdose deaths down to the lowest level in years.

But medical experts and advocates say more needs to be done for survivors, who are sometimes left with brain damage that can worsen underlying addiction and substance use disorders.

Janelle Breese-Biagioni is a registered counsellor and the CEO of the Constable Gerald Breese Centre for Traumatic Life Losses, a charity she founded 30 years ago in memory of her late first husband, an RCMP officer who suffered a traumatic brain injury.

She said brain injuries, which can worsen the risk of substance use, depression or criminality, are an under-examined part of the overdose crisis that killed over 1,300 British Columbians last year.

“If we don’t include brain injury in this conversation, we will never have a 100-per-cent solution to the problem,” said Breese-Biagioni.

The province has said there were 446 fentanyl-related deaths between January and June of this year, compared to 1,334 for the entirety of 2018. This June saw the lowest monthly number of fentanyl-related deaths since September 2016, according to the B.C. Coroners Service.

But Dr. Delbert Dorscheid, a physician and researcher at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, said the number of people he sees with traumatic brain injuries has not been declining.

Fentanyl, the cause of the majority of illicit drug deaths in B.C., can interrupt blood and oxygen flow the brain.

He says provincial and federal governments do not track the prevalence of acquired brain injuries resulting from overdoses, the impacts of which range from mood swings to memory loss to paralysis.


Valerie Wilson with her son Dayton.

PNG

“They’re not feel-good stories, and they’re not stories the politicians want to promote,” he said. “It’s making the whole topic so black and white, life and death. But in between there’s a lot of grey. We are just not acknowledging the grey.”

Dr. Perry Kendall, the co-interim executive director at the B.C. Centre on Substance Use, speculates the number brain injuries caused by an overdose is “easily in the high hundreds.”

He says those impacted are often stigmatized for their substance use and may have had negative experiences in the health-care system, which he believes is partly why the issue hasn’t been addressed.

“Those who use drugs and are admitted to hospital often can’t wait to get out. They’re not having the best experience with health-care providers,” he said. “We kind of blame people for the symptoms of their illnesses.”

Breese-Biagioni said the impact of brain injuries can trap patients in a “vicious cycle” by worsening the symptoms of underlying mental health and substance use disorders.

She said current funding for counselling for affected persons only covers eight sessions, but she considers the minimum should be a full two years.

Debbie Dee, the executive director of the Powell River Brain Injury Society, has sponsored a motion at her town council to ask the Union of B.C. Municipalities to recommend adding brain injuries to the name and mandate of the provincial Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions.

She said it currently straddles so many ministries and mandates that action on it is almost impossible.

“Brain injury isn’t a mental health issue. It isn’t a substance use issue. It’s not an inclusion issue,” she said. “Where does it fit? It’s never fit anywhere.”

Dorscheid said improving relations with patients and securing research funding is key to understanding the problem and its extent.

“We would probably be able to reduce the burden of addictive disorders within our society if we found ways to treat people more compassionately and more completely,” he said.

Kendall believes the issue is part of a case for a non-toxic regulated drug supply, which he argues would greatly reduce the risk of overdoses in general.

But one problem Breese-Biagioni identified would not be solved by a safe supply — the situation of people already living with brain injuries, and their families.

Wilson is a member of Moms Stop the Harm, a national coalition of families impacted by the overdose crisis.

She supports implementing a safe drug supply, but says the grief she feels isn’t the same as other members of the group whose loved ones have passed away.

“They’re grieving the death of their children, and I still have mine,” she said. “I feel like a faker in some ways, right? It would be so much worse to lose him. But I still see him struggle. I do still have him, but I don’t.”

16Aug

Overdose deaths in B.C. decline in first six months of 2019

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This June 2016 photo provided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police shows printer ink bottles containing carfentanil imported from China, in Vancouver.


The latest figures from British Columbia’s coroners service show fewer people are dying from illicit drug overdoses and there has been a decrease in the number of deaths related to carfentanil over the past two months.

The service says 73 people died of suspected illicit drug overdoses in June, a drop of 35 per cent compared with 113 for the same month last year.

The service says fentanyl was detected in more than four out of every five deaths in 2018 and during the first six months of this year.

The detection of carfentanil peaked at 32 deaths in March, but the service says there was a decrease in the number of deaths related to this synthetic opioid in May and June.

Overall for the first six months of 2019, there were 538 suspected overdose deaths from illicit drugs, down from 763 for the same period last year.

The service says males accounted for 78 per cent of all suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths for the first six months of 2019.

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9Jul

B.C. harm-reduction sites, doctors struggling with new type of overdose

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Sarah Blyth is director of the Overdose Prevention Society in Vancouver.


HANDOUT / PNG

Doctors and frontline health-care workers say they are responding to an increasing number of overdoses involving opioids contaminated with benzodiazepines, restricted substances normally used to treat anxiety.

Benzodiazepines don’t respond to emergency treatments such as naloxone, or Narcan, which usually temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. Instead, drug users are left groggy, disoriented and suffering from memory loss. That means users may remain unconscious even after naloxone is administered, according to Overdose Prevention Society director Sarah Blyth.

“It’s way more challenging for all frontline workers because a person will overdose, you’ll give them Narcan, which normally brings them back into consciousness and fully awake and alert … but this means you give them Narcan and they still need to be monitored for most of the day,” said Blyth.

“It adds to everything. It adds to the crisis. It’s another level of stress.”

Blyth said the prevention society saw 16 such overdoses in a 24-hour period last weekend.

Dr. Keith Ahamad, a researcher at the B.C. Centre on Substance Use, said these overdoses are becoming more common at St. Paul’s Hospital.

“We’ve been hearing about it for months, but over the past couple of weeks the clinical presentations have been much more significant,” said Ahamad.

Opioids and benzodiazepines are both sedatives, but they work along different neurological pathways. That means using them together brings a magnified risk of overdose and different withdrawal syndromes, making it more challenging to treat. Health-care workers don’t know why the two drugs are being cut together.

“We’ve warned people using opioids to not take benzodiazepines because we know the combination can cause overdoses,” said Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, a medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health.

Samples of contaminated drugs taken earlier this year showed traces of etizolam, which is chemically related to benzodiazepine. Since then, Lysyshyn said stronger, illicitly-produced benzodiazepine variants have appeared.

“The illegal drug supply will produce dangerous drugs,” he said. “This is the last type of compound we’d want to see mixed with opioids, but here it is.”

Drugs cut with these contaminants have been reported in other B.C. communities, including Powell River this week. But the scope of the problem is unknown because benzodiazepine test strips do not detect etizolam.

“You see a little bit of it, and all of a sudden it’s in everything,” said Blyth.

Vancouver police seized just 47 grams of benzodiazepines in all of 2018, none of which were etizolam. But over 6,100 grams of seized drugs were classified as “unknown” and were not tested or identified, according to data obtained through a freedom of information request.

Medications to reverse benzodiazepine-caused overdoses exist, but are dangerous to use and restricted to hospitals, Lysyshyn said.

“It’s not easily administered like naloxone is, so it’s not the kind of thing we can make widely available,” he said.

Ahamad said the contaminated drugs makes treating withdrawal and addiction symptoms more complicated because users may develop a physical dependence to benzodiazepines without realizing it.

“We’re going to be hamstrung in our ability to treat people with our classic treatment (methods) if the drugs that are being used are of a different class,” said Ahamad.

B.C.’s overdose crisis killed 1,514 people last year. Most of those deaths involved fentanyl, but over 16 per cent involved “other” drugs including benzodiazepines, over-the-counter medications, and other drugs, according to coroner data.

Blyth said these overdoses are the consequence of a toxic drug supply and urged government to make responding to the crisis a central campaign issue in the coming federal election.

“We want to make sure people are safe, but we also want to make sure we’re getting somewhere, someday, where we’re not in this situation anymore,” she said.

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28Jun

B.C. teen overdose inquest recommends improvements in substance abuse treatment

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Elliot Eurchuk poses in this undated family handout photo. The parents of a Victoria-area teen who died of a drug overdose say they don’t want other families to experience the trauma of having a child slip their caring hands.


HO / THE CANADIAN PRESS

VICTORIA — A British Columbia coroner’s inquest jury recommends improvements in provincial substance abuse treatment, detection and prevention services for young people following an inquest into the overdose of a Victoria-area teen.

The jury cites B.C.’s health and education ministries and the Vancouver Island Health Authority in its recommendations after hearing from more than 40 witnesses into the April 20, 2018, death of Elliot Eurchuk.

The jury concludes the 16-year-old’s death was accidental, resulting from a mixed intoxication of drugs that included fentanyl, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.

The jury recommends the education ministry develop programs for early detection of mental health and substance use disorders at schools and implement plans to ease the transition back to school for students who undergo drug treatment programs.

It also says the health ministry should provide youth with more long-term residential substance use treatment facilities throughout B.C.

Eurchuk’s parents, Rachel Staples and Brock Eurchuk, testified their attempts to help their son were thwarted by outdated privacy policies.

The B.C. Coroners Service called the inquest saying there was a public interest in hearing the circumstances of the teen’s death, and that a jury would have the opportunity to make recommendations to prevent similar deaths.

Rachel Staples and Brock Eurchuk with sons Isaac, Oliver and Elliott.


Rachel Staples and Brock Eurchuk with sons Isaac, Oliver and Elliott (far right).

Family photo

Eurchuk’s parents said at the conclusion of testimony that they don’t want others to endure the trauma of not being able to help children when they need it most.

“At numerous junctures the health-care system failed Elliot,” said Brock Eurchuk. “The education system failed Elliot. The laws that we’re trying to parent our children with are fraught with flaws.”

He said current privacy laws prevented them from knowing the full extent of their son’s substance abuse because he consistently denied using drugs and when he finally disclosed to his family doctor, he asked that his parents not be told.

Eurchuk said current laws were designed decades ago to guarantee young people privacy about birth control and sexuality issues.

“Let’s dial it up 30 years later and talk about the opioid crisis and what these kids are exposed to on a daily basis,” he said. “It’s a challenging, dangerous new world.”

Staples said the family wasn’t able to receive detailed medical information about Eurchuk’s addiction, which prevented them from developing a united strategy and treatment plan.

“That’s what it creates, because the parents are trying to make a child understand an adult’s perspective when a child has a child’s brain that’s been hijacked by opioids,” she said. “Family dynamics are disrupted.”

Staples, a dentist and also a mother of two sons younger than Eurchuk, testified she was shocked in 2016 to discover her son had sedation drugs from her dental office stashed in his bedroom. She said she suspected her son was perhaps smoking marijuana, but had no idea about other drugs.

The mother testified she watched Eurchuk slide over three years from a bright, but underachieving student and talented athlete to drug-sick teen.

The inquest heard from Kelowna pediatrician Tom Warshawski who described an overdose as a life-and-death situation where a young person’s brain and actions are being controlled by potentially deadly drugs.

He said he supports placing young people in treatment facilities against their will if they’ve suffered an overdose.

Warshawski said committing young people to secure treatment facilities under B.C.’s Mental Health Act, where they can’t leave for a time period of about one week, allows doctors to help clean the drugs out of their systems and open their minds to the possibility of future treatment.

The inquest heard Eurchuk’s parents placed their son in secure care after he overdosed on illicit drugs at the hospital. At the time, he was undergoing treatment for a blood infection that is common to intravenous drug users.

Staples said the move only further alienated their son from the parents because he felt they had betrayed him.

Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.’s former provincial health officer, told the inquest jury he wasn’t a supporter of involuntary care for youths with drug issues. He said there is not enough evidence showing such treatment programs work.


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26Jun

Youth overdose is grounds for secure care treatment, B.C. pediatrician tells inquest

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VICTORIA — A British Columbia pediatrician who treats children and youth struggling with substance abuse issues says he supports placing young people in treatment facilities against their will if they’ve suffered an overdose.

Dr. Tom Warshawski, who treats youth in the Kelowna area, told a coroner’s inquest into the death of 16-year-old Elliot Eurchuk that an overdose is a life-and-death situation where a young person’s brain and actions are being controlled by the potentially deadly drugs.

Warshawski said Thursday that committing young people to secure treatment facilities where they can’t leave for a time period of about one week at least allows doctors to help clean the drugs out of their systems and open their minds to the possibility of future treatment.

“It’s not a panacea,” he said. “It’s not a guarantee of success. I think it’s an important tool that needs to be looked at. The choice is involuntary (treatment) versus continued life-threatening behaviour.”

Eurchuk died of an overdose in 2018 about two months after he was forcefully admitted to a Victoria youth treatment ward for a week-long stay.

The inquest heard his parents took the action when he overdosed in hospital on illicit drugs. At the time, he was undergoing treatment for a blood infection that is common to intravenous drug users.

Eurchuk’s parents, Rachel Staples and Brock Eurchuk, have testified efforts to help their son were thwarted by medical privacy laws that allowed information to be kept from them about the teen’s addiction issues.


Elliot Eurchuk in a family photo.

HO /

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Eurchuk denied using street drugs to his parents and doctors, and it was only after his overdose in February 2018 that he started talking about drug use with his family doctor. He refused to allow his parents into the discussion, the inquest has heard.

Warshawski said patient confidentiality is an important issue, but when it involves young people and it is life-threatening, parents should know.

“Opioid overdose is at the extreme end of risk of death, and certainly we would disclose,” he said.

Warshawski said he is part of a working group that has provided recent research documents about secure care treatment for young people to B.C.’s Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions.

“When it’s life and death, we really have to get our act together,” he said.

Warshawski called the acceptance of voluntary youth drug treatment the “best possible situation.” But he said current waits of up to 12 weeks for treatment beds for youth in B.C. is “scandalous.”

He said there is little geographical co-ordination between health officials about available beds for young people, meaning a teen in Kelowna volunteering for drug treatment could be denied immediate help even if there is an available bed at a facility in North Vancouver or Prince George.

Dr. Alice Virani, B.C.’s top clinical medical ethicist, testified Thursday that many options, including treatment effectiveness and fairness to the patient, must be considered before a youth is committed to secure drug treatment.

“It’s never undertaken lightly,” she said. “In certain circumstances, secure care might be justified.”

Virani said youth treatment for eating disorders in B.C. involves placing young people in secure care.

Former B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall was also scheduled to testify later at the inquest, which is coming to a close after hearing from more than 40 witnesses over eight days.

 


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5Jun

Rapid response to B.C.’s overdose crisis saved thousands of lives: report

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Firefighters and BC Ambulance paramedics in Vancouver take a woman who suffered an fentanyl and heroin overdose to the hospital, in January, 2018.


Jason Payne / PNG

A study by the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control says the rapid harm-reduction response to the province’s overdose crisis saved more than 3,000 lives during the peak of the emergency.

Researchers looked at a 20-month period from April 2016 to December 2017 when 2,177 people died of an overdose, concluding that the number of deaths in B.C. would have been two and a half times higher.

The study gives three programs the credit: take-home naloxone which saved almost 1,600 lives, the expansion of overdose prevention services, stopping 230 deaths, and increased access to treatment that saved 590 lives.

The centre’s Dr. Mike Irvine led the research and says despite the highly toxic street drug supply, the average probability of death from accidental overdose decreased because of the services provided to keep people alive.

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy says the study speaks to the importance of harm reduction and the services are essential to turning the tide in the overdose crisis.

The province declared a health emergency over the crisis in April 2016 and the centre says in a news release that overdose remains the leading cause of preventable death in the province.


A Vancouver Fire Department Medical Unit responds to an unresponsive man after the male injected a drug, in the Downtown Eastside at Vancouver in December 2016.

RICHARD LAM /

PNG

Irvine says their study is the among the first evidence that shows a combination of harm reduction and treatment interventions can save lives.

“It is useful information for jurisdictions considering how to respond to the overdose crisis.”

Overdose deaths increased rapidly in 2016, coinciding with the introduction of the powerful opioid fentanyl into the illicit drug supply.

Fentanyl or its analogues were detected in 87 per cent of all illicit overdose deaths last year.

Jane Buxton, the harm reduction lead at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, says the take-home naloxone program was already in place when the crisis emerged, allowing them to quickly expand the program to help save lives.

“Since the program ramped up in mid-2016 in response to the ongoing crisis, we’ve distributed between 4,000 and 5,000 kits every month.”

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30May

Life expectancy stops increasing in Canada due to B.C. opioid overdose deaths: stats

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24Apr

Daphne Bramham: Decriminalization alone won’t end B.C.’s overdose crisis

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A man injects drugs in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019. Despite significant efforts to combat overdose deaths in British Columbia, the provincial coroner says illicit drug overdose deaths increased to 1,489, just over the 2017 death total.


JONATHAN HAYWARD / THE CANADIAN PRESS

The problem with the provincial health officer’s special report recommending decriminalization of all illicit drug users  is that Dr. Bonnie Henry chose to make that her only recommendation.

Three years after a public health emergency was declared because of an epidemic of deaths from illicit opioids, B.C. still has no comprehensive addictions strategy.

It has a stunning lack of treatment services, no universal access to services, no simple pathway to what few services there are, no provincial standards or regulation of privately operated treatment and recovery homes services.

Government ministries such as health, mental health and addictions services, social development and housing remain siloed and the root causes of addiction remain largely unaddressed.

While there has been substantial investment in harm-reduction measures including overdose prevention sites, free naloxone kits (to reverse an opioid overdose), low-barrier shelters and poverty reduction, the needs are greater.

Overdose deaths have only hit a plateau – not dropped. Every day, four people British Columbians die.

Yet, Henry is adamant that decriminalization is the most important next step.

“It’s about a focus and an intent,” she said. “Instead of police focusing on requirement of the Criminal Code, it builds off-ramps to connect with services. And, that in itself, ensures those systems are built.”

The majority of those who have died of overdoses were young men using alone at home. Without fear of being arrested and with the stigma of addiction being reduced, the expectation is that addicts or recreational users would be more likely to go to a supervised injection site, use with a friend (with a naloxone kit at the ready) or call for help if they overdose.

Henry calls decriminalization “a necessary next step to stop the death toll from rising and to make harm-reduction services more readily available.”

But it’s a question whether those recreational users would do that, because many addicts say that they use alone for a variety of reasons — not least of which is that they don’t want to share their drugs or they don’t want anyone to know what they do when they’re high.

The report recommended two options for British Columbia to work around the Criminal Code provisions.

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth firmly and quickly said no to both. But he noted there are pilot projects in Vancouver, Abbotsford and Vernon where rather than charging for possession, police are linking users with services. An evaluation of those will be completed in the fall and, depending on the results, they may be expended to other communities.

Henry makes no secret of the fact that her ultimate goals for Canada are full legalization and regulation of all drugs to ensure that there is a safe supply. If that were to happen, Canada would be the first in the world to do that.

Portugal is mentioned frequently in the report and by Henry. Possession for personal use was decriminalized more than 20 years ago. But it was done only as part of a comprehensive, drug strategy.

Police still arrest anyone found with illicit drugs. They are taken to a police station where the drugs are weighed. If the amount is above the maximum limit set for personal use, they are charged and go through the criminal justice system.

If the amount is below the limit, tickets are issued and users told to appear at the Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Use within 24 hours. There, they meet with a social worker or counsellor before going before a three-person tribunal, which recommends a plan for treatment.

People don’t have to comply. But if they are arrested again, the commission can impose community service, require that they seek treatment, impose fines and even confiscate people’s property to pay those fines.

That’s not the kind of decriminalization Henry is recommending. Instead, the onus here would be on police officers – not trained addictions specialists, psychologists or social workers — to connect users with services.

Part of the reason for the difference is that Portugal’s goal wasn’t legalization or keeping addicts alive until they chose to go treatment. Its focus was and is on getting addicts into treatment and recovery so they could resume their place in society.

Harm reduction is only a small part of the Portuguese plan. Its first supervised injection site has only recently opened. But there is free and easy access to methadone (which dampens heroin addicts’ craving for the drug) and free needles to stop the spread of infection.

These harm reduction measures are deemed to temporary bridges to abstinence for all but older, hardcore, long-term heroin users rather than long-term solutions. Of course, fentanyl and carfentanil have yet to be found in its illicit drug supply.

Its treatment services as extensive and include everything from outpatient treatment to three years’ residency in a therapeutic community during which time the users’ families are provided with income supplements.

Nothing in this decriminalization report moves British Columbia anywhere close to that kind of comprehensive system. And until we get there, it’s hard to imagine that this overdose crisis ending anytime soon.

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24Apr

Overdose crisis: BC’s top doctor wants drug possession decriminalized

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B.C.’s top doctor has unveiled a bold proposal to slow the rate of overdose deaths — by decriminalizing possession of a small amount of drugs for personal use.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s report, released Wednesday, says it is known around the world that the “war on drugs” has been a failure, and says the criminalization of non-violent people for possessing a substance for personal use does considerable harm to the person and society.

Specifically, Henry says criminalization increases communicable disease transmission, stigma and drug-related mortality. Incarceration and criminal records exacerbate drug harms by preventing future employment and travel, she adds.

“As the Provincial Health Officer of B.C., I recommend that the Province of B.C. urgently move to decriminalize people who possess controlled substances for personal use,” Henry says.

“This is a fundamental underpinning and necessary next step for the continued provincial response to the overdose crisis in B.C.”

Henry’s report, called “Stopping the Harm: Decriminalization of People Who Use Drugs in B.C.,” says that despite expanded harm-reduction activities and interventions in the province, and increased access to evidence-based treatment, an average of four people continue to die in B.C. each day due to the toxic illegal drug supply.

“Decriminalization of people who use controlled drugs is an effective public health approach to drug policy in other jurisdictions and is the most appropriate option for B.C. at this time,” Henry says.

“While law enforcement in B.C. exercise their discretion when considering possession charges, such as the presence of harmful behaviour or identified need for treatment services, the application of the law is inconsistent across communities. As such, there is a need for a provincial-level commitment to support an official policy to decriminalize people who use drugs.”

Henry says decriminalization would allow law enforcement to work with health and social systems to help connect people with treatment and other social services.

In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drugs for personal use in response to a surge in heroin use.

Henry said there are two means by which to decriminalize in B.C. One would use provincial legislation to allow the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor to set provincial priorities, such as declaring a public health and harm reduction approach as a priority for police to apply when toward simple possession. The other would develop a new regulation under the Police Act that would add a provision preventing police from expending resources on simple possession offences under Section 4(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.


Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry answers questions during a press conference about the release of the latest provincial statistics by the BC Coroners Service at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 7, 2019.

CHAD HIPOLITO /

THE CANADIAN PRESS

The report explains decriminalization as follows: “Decriminalization involves removing an action or behaviour from the scope of the criminal justice system. In the context of controlled substances, it is typically focused on possession and consumption of drugs for personal use and does not set out a system or structure for production, distribution, or sale of controlled substances.

“Decriminalization does not exclude the application of fines or administrative penalties. For example, if possession of drugs for personal use was decriminalized (as is the case in Portugal), the drug itself is still illegal, but possessing it does not lead to criminal sanctions (unless the possession is at a trafficking level).”

More to come.

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