VANCOUVER -- Guy Felicella says he’s thankful to be alive this holiday season.

"I have a really good life today," Felicella said. "I have three beautiful children and a beautiful wife. I'm not homeless, I own my own house, and things are really good."

But it wasn’t always like that for the former drug user. He spent more than twenty years living on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, using harm reduction resources to keep himself alive.

Harm reduction services include a wide array of treatment options and supports that meet people where they’re at, and they don’t require people to stop using drugs in order to start getting help.

According to Felicella, "Trauma led me to seek substances to cope and to function through life. I was overdosing, being brought back to life and homeless sleeping in doorways. If it wasn't for vital harm reduction services that existed, I just wouldn't be able to have the life that I have today."

Now he’s a public speaker, advocating to reduce the stigma of harm reduction and educating students on addiction.

“As a society we could be much less judgemental towards people who are struggling. It's the biggest factor why people don't reach out and receive the help that they need. Nobody in their lives should have to go through the amount of trials and tribulations that I had to deal with in order to finally receive help in the end," said Felicella. “If this is truly a health issue like everybody says it is, then we need to start treating it like a health issue, instead of a criminal justice issue."

Despite the declaration of a public health emergency in this province in April 2016, B.C. is on track for its deadliest year in the overdose crisis. In November 2020, there were 153 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths. It represents an 89 per cent increase over the number of deaths reported in November 2019. 

The number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in the province equates to about 5.1 deaths per day, according to the BC Coroner’s Service. And with one week to go in 2020, 1,548 people have already died this year. The previous yearly record of illicit drug toxicity deaths was 1,549 in 2018.

People are dying from a toxic drug supply in every region of the province/ In 2020, 84 per cent of drug deaths occurred inside - 55 per cent in private residences and 28 per cent in other residences including social and supportive housing. 

"It's just heartbreaking that five people will die today,” said Felicella. 

“We can't normalize that, that's not normal and we as a society have to push to change that so that people can get treatment on demand, safer supply on demand and to remove … that contaminated drug market."