A recent report by a legislative committee on the toxic drug crisis in British Columbia is too half-hearted and flawed to stop record numbers of people from continuing to die, say frontline workers and advocates for people who use drugs .
“The report has let us down once again. It gave us hope and then said very little,” said Tyson Singh Kelsall, a social worker in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and a PhD student at Simon Fraser University.
“The urgency I see on the pitch is not in the report.”
A Nov. 1 report from the Standing Committee on Health, written by 10 MPs after four months of consultations, makes 37 recommendations. These include stepping up safer prescribed supply and harm reduction efforts and building more detox and treatment spaces.
When the report was released, committee chair and NDP MLA for Vancouver-Hastings, Niki Sharma, said the calls were aimed at filling gaps in support and reducing barriers to different resources like supplies. safety prescribed and overdose prevention sites.
“The supply of toxic drugs knows no borders and affects communities around the world. We have been focused on finding solutions for British Columbia to stem the tide,” Sharma told the Legislative Assembly last Tuesday.
“It’s clear that we must work collectively to find and focus on solutions that will save lives and help people achieve wellness.”
The report’s staying the course recommendations also included more funding to police to refer people they apprehend with drugs to support services. He called for increasing the availability of overdose prevention sites and naloxone kits (kits containing injectable agonists to reverse opioid overdoses) across British Columbia.
In an open letter responding to the report of the Select Standing Committee on Health, 56 individuals and organizations, including frontline workers like Singh Kelsall, researchers, drug user rights groups and nonprofits legal, said the report was a frustrating disappointment.
“This report and its recommendations replicate the same tedious strategy of doing nothing, hoping for better, well-worn by BC’s NDP majority government,” reads the letter shared with The Tyee and published Friday by the online publication The Mainlander.
Since the toxic drug crisis was declared a public health emergency in 2016, more than 10,000 people have died in British Columbia. That’s about six deaths a day and many more people suffering from non-fatal drug poisonings that can lead to permanent brain damage and other long-lasting health impacts.
During this time, the drug supply has become increasingly potent and unpredictable, contaminated with fentanyl, carfentanil and, more recently, benzodiazepines and tranquilizers that make opioid overdoses more deadly and difficult to control. reverse.
The signatories to the letter are the BC Civil Liberties Association, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users and the Pivot Legal Society. They call for a safe, predictable and regulated supply of medicines to separate people from the increasingly poisonous and illicit supply.
Nicole Luongo, system change coordinator at the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, signatory, said the report was “a bit of a waste of time” and a stark reminder that calls from people who use drugs are only not heard.
“I don’t think there was much possibility of it going any other way,” she said.
The signatories also said the report appeared rooted in “old-fashioned addiction medicine” approaches that aim to stop people from using drugs rather than recognizing how much more the drug supply has become. deadly to anyone who uses it, regularly or rarely.
“The overdose crisis has long been confused with other issues like addiction and treatment,” Singh Kelsall said. “But no matter how many people get treatment or get better support, the drug supply will remain contaminated and until we address it in a concrete way, the deaths will continue.”
The report’s findings largely echo previous recommendations from two death review panels convened by the BC Coroners Service in 2018 and 2022, but without the same concrete timelines for action. The provincial government has not agreed to implement the findings of these previous reports.
In response to Tuesday’s findings, Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson said the report “confirms” the current approach and does not indicate whether the province will formally adopt the recommendations.
Downtown Eastside activist and drug policy advisor for the City of Vancouver, Karen Ward, felt the report was a tool to stay the course.
“It’s very clear what they’re recommending is what they could agree on,” said Ward of the majority committee of NDP MPs. “I’m looking at ‘what we heard’ versus the recommendations and they’re miles apart.”
In Ward’s view, this shows a clear choice by the government to continue the current, increasingly deadly trajectory.
“They claim they will continue to kill thousands of people,” she said.
But she doesn’t think the report itself is useless.
“We need to leverage this report to create a situation where we talk about it seriously as adults,” Ward said, “and recognize that this mass poisoning is the result of political choices and that we can make it happen. others.”