‘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

Contempt charge against Balfour logging protesters dropped on technicality

A B.C. Supreme Court justice ruled Cooper Creek Cedar failed to file a contempt application

Developer offers details for former Kerr Apartment site

Wayne Woodward is planning a five-storey building on Victoria Street

Jail time for driver involved in Castlegar road rampage

Sean Patrick Byrne caused havoc on Castlegar roads in November

UPDATED: Meth possession charges considered after car rolls off Nelson highway

Vehicle landed beside the Rosemont pedestrian trail

Kootenay Lake’s first marine waste pump-out opens

Sewage facility is located at the Prestige marina

Disney Plus to launch in Canada in November

Analysts say latest streaming service may escalate cord cutting

Okanagan bus driver assaulted for asking patron not to smoke

59-year-old in hospital with non-life threatening injuries

B.C. sets rules for ride hailing, same minimum fee as taxis

Larger operating areas seen as threat by cab companies

Two hiking families team up to extinguish fire in B.C. backcountry

Children and their parents worked for three hours to ensure safety of the popular hiking region

Vancouver man arrested after pregnant woman’s SUV stolen, then crashed

Police are recommending charges against a 22-year-old Vancouver man

Elections Canada to assess ‘partisan’ climate change rhetoric case by case

People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier has said climate change is not an emergency nor caused by human

Unseasonable snow forces campers out of northeastern B.C. provincial park

Storm brought as much as 35 centimetres of snow to the Fort Nelson, Muncho Lake Park-Stone Mountain Park

B.C. log export rules killing us, northwest harvester says

NorthPac Forestry says Skeena Sawmills has plenty of timber

Most Read