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B.C. officials respond to 'fear-based' rhetoric about safer supply programs

Despite "anecdotal information and allegations," there is no evidence that a prescribed safe supply of opioids is being diverted and causing increased harm and death – specifically among youth, B.C.'s chief coroner said Monday.

"We are focused on saving lives. We are focused on reducing harms," Lisa Lapointe said during a news conference.

"We have seen far too many – far too many – lives lost, and far too many suffering in our communities. And we have been concerned about this increasingly polarized rhetoric that is not informed by evidence — that is not paying attention to evidence, as a matter of fact.”

Lisa Lapointe made that statement Monday alongside other officials who gathered to counter what they described as divisive politicking and harmful claims around the toxic drug crisis and the province's response.

No specific politician or incident was highlighted, and when asked if they were responding to the federal Conservative leader's comments or his recent motion to end funding for safe supply programs, none pointed the finger at Pierre Poilievre.

"We are standing together saying fear-based, polarizing rhetoric that is not evidence-informed is causing harm," Jennifer Charlesworth, the representative for children and youth said in response to a reporter asking why the news conference was being held given that no announcements were made and no new information was released. 

The provincial health officer, the head of the First Nations Health Authority and the representative for children and youth joined Lapointe for a news conference at which no new information was released and no announcement was made.

"We are standing together saying fear-based, polarizing rhetoric that is not evidence-informed is causing harm," Jennifer Charlesworth, the representative for children and youth said in response to a reporter asking why the news conference was being held.

Among the issues raised was the notion that hydromorphone being prescribed through the province's limited safe supply programs is "flooding the streets" and causing an increase in harm and death, particularly among youth. The evidence, all of the officials said, does not indicate that is happening.

"We aren't seeing any indication in our data in the stories we track that youth are using from diverted safe supply. The injuries and deaths reported to our office are coming as a result of youth accessing the illicit supply, and these youth are typically using a range of substances," Charlesworth said.

"Young people are struggling and the illicit supply is so poisoned that the risks of youth use, whether through experimentation, occasional or regular use, are extraordinarily high."

In addition, Charlesworth said deaths can only be prevented if policies and programs are developed that respond to what is actually happening.

"When public policy is being driven by fear, by polarized opinion, by anecdotes – it actually causes harm," she said.

Lapointe said fentanyl remains the leading cause of poisoning – present in 86 per cent of deaths -- but also that most post-mortem toxicology reports show the presence of multiple substances.

Further, she said hydromorphone, in isolation, is not present in any significant numbers for any age group.

Young people are dying from toxic drugs. Thirty-four British Columbians under 19 died in 2022 and 327 people between 19 and 29 lost their lives. As is the case for every single age group, those are the highest numbers of fatalities recorded since 2012.

"Given that lives are at stake, this is not a time for division, but for people from all walks of life and political persuasions to come together with a common purpose to find creative solutions to a problem that affects us all in some way – and especially those who use drugs, their friends, their families and their co-workers,” said Dr. Kelsey Louie, deputy chief medical officer of the First Nations Health Authority.

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