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As B.C. marks grim anniversary, advocates call for more urgent action

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Last summer, Jessica Michalofsky ran from Nelson to Victoria, raising awareness about the toxic drug crisis that claimed her son Aubrey’s life. Nearly a year later, she's disappointed by the lack of movement on the crisis, as more families lose loved ones.

“I feel frustrated that seven people a day continue to die,” she said Monday, the day after a sombre milestone.

Sunday marked the eight year anniversary of B.C. declaring the overdose crisis a public health emergency.

Since April, 2016 there have been more than 14,000 British Columbians, including Michalofsky's son, who have died from toxic drug overdoses

The number of deaths has grown steadily each year since the pandemic, which is a source of sadness for Moms Stop the Harm.

“We see some progress in awareness and in dialogue among the public but we also see the politicizing of this tragedy,” said Leslie McBain, the organization's co-founder.

In a statement released Sunday, Premier David Eby said the toxic drug crisis has had a “catastrophic impact” on families and communities and that there is "much more to do" to end it.

“There is much more to do,” Eby said. “And together, we can end a crisis that has taken far too many of our neighbours, friends and family members.”

He also said the situation needs to be recognized as a “health crisis,” adding his government is trying to build and improve the province's mental-health and addictions-care systems.

The Opposition, asked Monday, said it would tackle the issue differently than the BC NDP. BC United Leader Kevin Falcon said, if elected, his party would would scrap both safer supply and decriminalization and focus on providing no-cost treatment.

Mental Health and Addictions Minister, Jennifer Whiteside, told CTV her party wouldn’t rule out eliminating decriminalization at the end of the three-year pilot project but also emphasized reducing stigma associated with drug use. Whiteside said her party is “very carefully” monitoring the implementation of decriminalization, and if it was determined that it is not working the province would "pivot."

Meanwhile, advocacy groups like Moms Stop the Harm continue to emphasize the need for access to safe supply, or "regulated legal alternatives,” to toxic illicit drugs.

McBain says action is needed urgently as the death toll continues to rise .

"We’re in an emergency, a public health emergency," she said.

"We're still in it. But there has not been an emergency response to this tragic situation.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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