‘B.C. cannot wait for action’: Top doctor urges province to decriminalize illicit drugs

Dr. Bonnie Henry says current approach in ‘war on drugs’ has criminalized and stigmatized drug users

B.C.’s top doctor says that if the province wants to stop illicit drugs from wiping out thousands of people, it must decriminalize street drugs.

In her report Wednesday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the country’s approach in its war on drugs has criminalized and stigmatized drug users – arresting and punishing them – instead of treating the current state of drug use as what is ultimately a health issue.

“In the context of the continuing overdose crisis that is affecting families and communities across B.C., the province cannot wait for action at the federal level,” Henry wrote.

“Immediate provincial action is warranted, and I recommend that the Province of B.C. urgently move to decriminalize people who possess controlled substances for personal use.”

Henry has also urged the federal government to regulate access to controlled drugs. Her calls for a clean supply of legal opioids follow similar calls by her predecessor Dr. Perry Kendall and B.C. chief coroner Lisa Lapointe.

Roughly four people die each day of an overdose in B.C. More than 3,000 have died since 2017.

READ MORE: B.C. opioid overdoses still killing four people a day, health officials say

READ MORE: B.C. launches new drug-checking program, expands fentanyl testing

The province has the power to decriminalize drug use and eliminate criminal possession charges in two ways through the Police Act, Henry said. The federal Constitution Act gives provincial legislatures the power to make or change its laws as an administration of justice.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth can implement a “harm reduction approach” that allows police to link drug users to health and social services. Or, he can include a provision within the legal framework to prevent police officers from enforcing simple possession.

“If the intention of a prohibition-based system was to protect individuals from harms inherent to substance use, then this policy approach has significantly failed to achieve this goal at an individual or population level,” Henry wrote.

“Evidence shows that this approach has had the opposite effect and has substantially increased harms. Law enforcement and health officials recognize that B.C. cannot arrest its way out of the overdose crisis.”

At least 30 countries – including Portugal, Australia, Spain, Uruguay, Norway, Chile and some U.S. jurisdictions – are exploring, or have in place, an alternative policy option that decriminalizes people for simple possession and use of controlled substances.

Black Press Media has reached out to the public safety ministry and the B.C. RCMP for comment.

Overdose deaths by city
Infogram

The 47-page report details the many methods so far taken by both the provincial and federal governments to avert an estimated 60 per cent of possible overdose deaths since Kendall declared a public health emergency in B.C. in April 2016.

READ MORE: Sell regulated heroin to curb B.C.’s overdose problem, report says

READ MORE: Should B.C. nix ‘Welfare Wednesday’ and stagger income assistance cheques?

Initiatives highlighted by Henry include rapid distribution of free naloxone kits, the rollout of overdose prevention sites, and the creation of a separate mental health and addictions ministry. She also noted the federal Good Samaritan law, which ensures police officers are not among the first responders to attend 911 overdose call. This is to remove the drug user’s fear of being criminally charged.

“Despite these life-saving activities, the BC Coroners Service reports that the number of deaths has continued to rise and remains at consistently high levels throughout the province,” the report said, especially affecting Indigenous people and men aged 30 to 59 years old.

One substantial factor in the ongoing overdose crisis is B.C.’s highly toxic illegal supply of fentanyl and carfentanil, Henry said, both of which are almost completely displacing diverted prescription opioids and illegal heroin.

READ MORE: Carfentanil found in 15% of overdose deaths in January: B.C. coroner

A more comprehensive report is expected in coming months, according to the health ministry, and will examine overdose deaths, response efforts, and some related impacts of overdose deaths, including a drop in life expectancy at birth for all British Columbians.

Read the full report below:

Stopping The Harm report by Dr. Bonnie Henry by Ashley Wadhwani on Scribd


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

BCSS grads come home to celebrate 50 years

*Hairstyles and outfits may have changed since graduation

Boundary District Arts Council folds amid financial questions

The last board took over in November and could not find receipts for $8,000 in spending

Residents push Grand Forks council to support with flood buyouts

Staff estimate a $6.6 million difference between pre and post-flood value for Grand Forks buyouts

MP warns of scam after catching Facebook Messenger imposter account

Wayne Stetski issues warning about an imposter messenger account that is using his profile photo

Grand Forks mulls in-kind options to support flood buyout residents

$6.6 million difference between pre and post-flood value for Grand Forks buyouts

Rich the Vegan scoots across Canada for the animals

Rich Adams is riding his push scooter across Canada to bring awareness to the dog meat trade in Asia

Canadian high school science courses behind on climate change, says UBC study

Researchers found performance on key areas varies by province and territory

Six inducted into BC Hockey Hall of Fame

The 26th ceremony in Penticton welcomed powerful figures both from on and off the ice

RCMP investigate two shootings in the Lower Mainland

Incidents happened in Surrey, with a victim being treated at Langley Memorial Hospital

CRA program to help poor file taxes yields noticeable bump in people helped

Extra money allows volunteer-driven clinics to operate year-round

Recall: Certain Pacific oysters may pose threat of paralytic shellfish poisoning

Consumers urged to either return affected packages or throw them out

How a Kamloops-born man helped put us on the moon

Jim Chamberlin did troubleshooting for the Apollo program, which led to its success

Sexual harassment complaints soaring amid ‘frat boy culture’ in Canada’s airline industry

‘It’s a #MeToo dumpster fire…and it’s exhausting for survivors’

How much do you know about the moon?

To mark the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing, see how well you know space

Most Read