While many of us have been focused on the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years, a second public health crisis has been going on for many years in our province. Far too many B.C. families are losing loved ones to the toxic drug supply, which continues to claim lives at a rate of more than seven per day.
This is far from a big city problem.
In fact, the health service delivery area that includes the Cariboo reported one of the highest death rates from illicit drug toxicity in the entire province in 2021.
The Official Opposition has repeatedly called on John Horgan and the NDP to take action to reduce waitlists for treatment, create more beds for withdrawal management, and make services more affordable so more people can get the help they need.
Sadly, five years after the creation of a specific ministry for mental health and addictions, people in need are no better off. The NDP’s patchwork approach is not working, and it’s not just the Opposition saying so. The BC Coroner’s recent Death Review Panel report stated that ‘initiatives have not been sufficient to stop the rising death toll’ and made 23 recommendations to government, which it has yet to accept.
The NDP has also failed to create more affordable housing options for people, which was a big election promise that hasn’t seen much progress. It is heartbreaking the staggering number of people experiencing homelessness in our province — more than 8,600 people according to the most recent homeless count, many of them here in the interior. Homeless counts have also shown that based on population, the Cariboo has one of the highest rates of homelessness in all of B.C.
When it comes to helping our vulnerable citizens, no matter what circumstances they are facing, it’s my view that the government must put a rural lens on any solutions to assist communities outside of the Lower Mainland. Often overlooked are the unique additional challenges of rural life that make it even more difficult for vulnerable people in our communities to access the help they need.
Consider the lack of transportation options, which may prevent people from physically getting to the facilities offering the services they require. Or the cold, harsh weather conditions that can be so dangerous to those living on the street, putting them at risk for frostbite and even death.
We need to ensure that social support workers and the resources they offer can meet vulnerable individuals where they are — rather than expect people struggling with mental health, addiction or homelessness to travel great distances and battle extreme weather to get the care they need.
This government must ensure our rural communities are equipped to offer this kind of support, so we don’t see even more tragedy unfold in our neighbourhoods.