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B.C. premier defends drug decriminalization as controversy grows, feds scrutinize program

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The premier of British Columbia is continuing to defend the three-year pilot program underway in his province that’s decriminalized personal possession of hard drugs, even as the federal government sends its minister responsible to discuss growing concerns and controversies.

David Eby is facing growing public frustration around open drug use and hospital safety, as critics of all stripes question his government’s planning for and response to complications from decriminalization.

CTV News pointed out that Eby is dealing with the fallout from the policy, which was championed and ushered in by his predecessor, John Horgan, and asked how long he’d uphold a measure that wasn’t particularly well-planned and he’s now stuck with. 

“It's an incredibly challenging issue. We're trying to keep people alive, get them intro treatment. We've opened hundreds of new treatment beds this year alone,” Eby replied. “We have attempted to put in place a system that recognizes some of the impacts we've seen of the ongoing toxic drug crisis that we're in, including public drug use by some individuals and we're not going to let it go.”

Minister downplays federal scrutiny

CTV News asked B.C.'s Mental Health and Addiction Minister, Jennifer Whiteside, about a meeting Eby revealed would be happening with her federal counterpart, which she downplayed.

“I understand that (the federal mininster) is coming through town next week,” Whiteside said, suggesting there is nothing unusual in next week’s discussions. 

The office of federal Mental Health and Addictions Minister Ya’ara Saks confirmed that she will be coming to B.C. to speak with her provincial counterpart and police representatives.

“We have indicated from the outset that the B.C. exemption (to federal drug laws) would be rigorously monitored and evaluated” making special note of safety concerns for health-care workers exposed during in-hospital drug consumption.

The full context behind VPD testimony

Saks’ trip to the West Coast will come on the heels of much-discussed testimony by some of British Columbia’s top police officials at a parliamentary committee looking at “decrim,” as it’s often called.

The official opposition and opponents of the program have seized on Deputy Chief Fiona Wilson’s testimony that half of the hydromorphone pills Vancouver police encounter are safe supply prescribed to drug users and diverted to street-level drug dealers. https://bc.ctvnews.ca/safe-supply-vancouver-police-deputy-chief-says-large-amounts-of-opioids-being-diverted-1.6850520

While that fact has drawn considerable attention, particularly in the wake of the solicitor general’s insistence that there is no evidence of widespread diversion, Wilson repeatedly told parliamentarians that is not her primary concern.

“(People) aren’t dying from diverted prescription medication, they're dying from fentanyl, coke, meth,” said the veteran officer, who’s also the president of the BC Chiefs of Police. “Diversion's an important issue, it's something we're watching very closely but we know from coroner's data that that's not what's killing people in British Columbia.”

Wilson went on to explain that counterfeit pills that can be produced in massive quantities and look like pharmaceutical-grade prescription drugs pose a large-scale, life-threatening issue – so that’s where her officers are focussing their attention.

“(Diversion) pales in comparison to what organized crime are doing in terms of fentanyl production, importation, exportation,” she said, also testifying that planning for decriminalization has been insufficient and “all the concerns we had have been realized.” 

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