A vase of flowers on top of a coffin at an event marking International Overdose Awareness Day in Nelson on Aug. 31. Photo: Tyler Harper

A vase of flowers on top of a coffin at an event marking International Overdose Awareness Day in Nelson on Aug. 31. Photo: Tyler Harper

COLUMN: Voting to end the overdose crisis

Amber Streukens writes about each party’s commitment to ending the overdose crisis

With a federal election quickly approaching, there are many pressing issues for Canadians to consider. As voters head to the polls on Sept. 20th, too many of us will do so with grief in our hearts.

In the first six months of 2021, over 1,000 B.C. residents have died of illicit drug poisoning. Following decades of bad drug policy and years of inadequate governmental response to the overdose crisis, it is time for drastic change.

So where does each party stand on this issue? What can we expect from our local MPs to reduce fatalities in the Kootenay-Columbia region?

All local candidates were invited to comment on their party’s commitment to ending the overdose crisis — none replied.

Liberal Party –

Robin Goldsbury

The Liberal platform includes a “comprehensive strategy to address problematic substance use to end the opioid crisis,” with $25 million promised for anti-stigma education, and $500 million to support the provinces and territories to expand evidence-based treatment.

Notably, the Liberal platform clearly acknowledges “that successful treatment is not determined by long-term abstinence.” Support is offered to provinces and territories to regulate substance-use treatment, highlighting the need for quality, evidence-based support.

While not clear on decriminalization, there is also a commitment to reduce the criminalization of people who use drugs by promoting diversion and repealing mandatory minimums for low-risk and first-time offenders.

New Democrat Party –

Wayne Stetski

The NDP unequivocally asserts that, if elected to office, they will promptly declare the overdose crisis a national public health emergency.

Further, the NDP supports decriminalization of people who use drugs and asserts that enforcement efforts should be focused on high-level trafficking. They are committed to working with provinces and health authorities to develop a safe supply of pharmaceutical alternatives to toxic illicit drugs, to be backed by significant funding.

In support of overdose prevention sites, the NDP also promises to improve access to treatment “on demand.” Additionally, the NDP aims to investigate the role of drug companies in the opioid crisis, including financial compensation for the public costs of the crisis.

Conservative Party of Canada – Rob Morrison

The CPC claims they will treat the opioid epidemic as a health issue. Without supporting decriminalization directly, their platform asserts that “law enforcement should focus on dealers and traffickers.”

The overall CPC strategy is focused predominantly on recovery, with a promise to ”invest $325 million over the next three years to create 1,000 residential drug treatment beds and build 50 recovery community centres across the country” as well as “$1 billion over five years to boost funding for Indigenous mental health and drug treatment programs.”

There is no clear support offered for safe supply alternatives, and the commitment to harm reduction is limited to expanding access to Naloxone. The CPC promises not to block safe injection sites, but clearly emphasizes treatment and recovery over harm reduction innovations.

Green Party Canada –

Rana Nelson

The Green Party clearly recognizes the opioid crisis as a health issue, and therefore calls for the decriminalization of personal possession and the creation of a national program to “ensure there is access to a safe screened and public supply of drugs of choice.”

If elected, they will declare drug poisonings a national health emergency (acknowledging that fentanyl contamination is an issue of “poisoning” rather than “overdose”), noting that “funding from the declaration of a national health emergency would be allocated towards scaling up prevention, harm reduction, and treatment services.”

The GPC also supports increasing funding to community-based organizations to provide drug checking services, and enhancing harm-reduction services, including in rural communities and prisons. They also commit to improving access to Naloxone as well as to mental health and addiction services.

People’s Party of Canada –

Sarah Bennett

The PPC federal election platform contains no commitments or references to the opioid crisis, substance use, overdose, or harm reduction.

At least 10 lives have been lost to overdose in the Kootenay-Columbia electoral region in the first half of 2021. As we head to the polls next week, let us keep these families in mind and elect a candidate committed to ending this crisis of preventable death.