As Wednesday marked B.C.’s fifth anniversary of declaring the overdose crisis a public health emergency, about 50 demonstrators stood outside the legislature to say that the provinces’s action has fallen short.
Moms Stop the Harm – a group of people who have lost loved ones to overdose and advocate for life-saving drug policy and support – were calling on the province to decriminalize drug possession and provide widespread access to regulated safe supply across B.C..
Jennifer Howard, the group’s program manager, said preventable overdose deaths must end.
“We are mothers, fathers, siblings, friends, front line workers and all those who deeply care that the epidemic of deaths continues in this province with no end in sight,” said Howard, who lost her son Robby to an overdose. “We are here to say that enough is enough and to demand our government implement immediate measures to keep people safe.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the province announced they’ll be requesting a federal exemption to decriminalize personal possession of drugs and $45 million in funding over three years to expand overdose prevention.
“Through provincewide decriminalization, we can reduce the fear and shame that keep people silent about their drug use, and support people to reach out for help, life-saving supports and treatment,” said Sheila Malcolmson, minister of mental health and addictions.
But speakers at the event scolded the government for, despite the five-year-old declaration, not treating the crisis like and emergency.
“If we truly treated this like an emergency, we would’ve seen courage from those in power, we would’ve had accessible and effective safe supply,” said Corey Ranger, a registered nurse and Victoria Safer Initiative member. He recalled when they responded to 28 overdoses in one week, including seven in one day, last April.
“We weren’t able to keep everyone alive,” he said. “It was around this time last year that I stood silently beside a grieving mom whose son died alone in a tent.”
Ranger said he sees first-hand how safe supply isn’t accessible enough for those who need it.
“I’m tired from grief, I’m exhausted from being ignored, I don’t want to be here and I don’t want to be here next year,” he said.
Victoria Coun. Marianne Alto said the demonstrators’ demands will help “drug use become what it is – a health issue.”
“How many times are we going to come together with the same questions and, more importantly, the same answers,” Alto said. “(The province) needs to hear these stories for what they are, they’re people who are dying, who don’t have to.”
Bernie Pauly, a University of Victoria nursing professor, said the more than 7,000 British Columbians that have died due to overdose since 2016 are not just numbers, but loved ones.
“Why aren’t we willing to provide an effective safer supply of substances,” she said. “We will end the drug war.”
Leslie McBain, Moms Stop the Harm’s co-founder who lost her son to overdose, said their demands are being heard, but their calls will only get louder until the crisis is quashed.
“The government can no longer ignore the numbers of deaths, the number of our children, our loved ones who are dead because they could not find safety in the drugs they needed,” said McBain.
Niki Lucas’ son Dustin died in 2016 of a fentanyl overdose. She wants other parents to know that overdose can happen to anyone.
“Never in a million years did I think we’d still be here five years later,” she said.
From 2016 to the end of this February, 7,072 British Columbians died due to overdose.