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Action on toxic drug crisis long overdue

MLA Lorne Doerkson’s column to the Free Press
Lorne Doerkson is the Liberal MLA for the Cariboo-Chilcotin. (Black Press Media file photos)

We have become too familiar with the word ‘crisis’ lately. From health care to housing, to the cost of living, we are not short on crises and they are having a profound impact on people in our province. But the deadliest crisis in B.C. is one we have been dealing with for six years, and it is still getting worse. The toxic drug crisis has tragically claimed the lives of more than 10,000 British Columbians since it was first declared a public health emergency.

Toxic drugs are the leading cause of ‘unnatural death’ in B.C., leading to the deaths of an average of six people every day. The BC Coroners Service report on illicit drug toxicity deaths for September 2022, released last week, shows this crisis continues unabated in our province. A total of 171 people lost their lives to toxic drugs this September.

We know that this is a provincewide issue. No corner of B.C. remains untouched, whether rural or urban, north or south. And while the government spends a considerable amount of time discussing how they are addressing the problem, the situation is only getting worse. Flashy government announcements quickly start to lose their impact when people continue to die in record numbers.

The Chief Coroner herself has expressed frustration with announcements that lack real follow-through. In a recent radio interview, she said: “I hear the announcements like everybody else in the millions of dollars. But what we don’t see are the evaluations of that. So where is the data to show where did those millions go, and who is benefiting from that money; what are the outcomes?”

It’s one thing to throw money at the problem — and don’t get me wrong, adequate funding is critically important — but how do we ensure that funding is having the impact it is supposed to? We need to be investing our resources in measures that will save lives. We cannot keep doing more of the same, because it is simply not working.

Recently, the multi-party Select Standing Committee on Health released a report, Closing Gaps, Reducing Barriers, which highlighted just how broken the current patchwork approach to mental health and addictions is in B.C. It showed there are still so many gaps that need to be addressed and recommended 37 actionable steps that government could take to start making a difference. The recommendations included a substantial increase in publicly funded, evidence-based, and accredited treatment and recovery beds and outpatient services, among others.

Some measures must be taken, urgently, to fix the patchwork approach that is currently allowing too many people to fall through the cracks. For the good of our province, I hope that those steps are taken soon — we need real action to save lives.

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