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Coroner, policy experts push for expanded safe supply as drug toxicity deaths continue to climb

With British Columbia on pace to break the annual record for drug toxicity deaths again – drug policy experts and the province’s chief coroner continue to press for an expansion of safer supply alternatives.

According to the latest numbers released by the BC Coroner’s Service, 198 people in the province died from tainted street drugs in July.

The total from the start of year to the end of last month is 1,455 – a record for that time span.

"We know that this crisis is being driven by broken policy,” said DJ Larkin, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition.

By some estimates, about 100,000 people in the province have been diagnosed with some form of substance use disorder, but according to the province’s own numbers, just 4,619 were prescribed safer supply opioids in June.

“I think it’s making a difference. But I also think 198 people passing away is obviously unacceptable to me and to everybody,” said provincial Health Minister Adrian Dix.

Larkin points out the number of people diagnosed with substance use disorder does not include occasional recreational users who are also getting drugs from the toxic street supply.

They say access to safer supply needs to increase exponentially, or we will continue to see record-setting numbers of deaths.

"The toxicity of the unregulated market is ongoing and unmitigated. It is putting lives at risk every day,” Larkin said. “And when we see that scale of loss, folks in community feel that grief very deeply."


B.C.’s Chief Coroner concurs, and is also calling for a rapid expansion of safer supply in an effort to save lives.

“It’s taking too much time, frankly, because we are in a crisis where we are seeing six people die every day,” said Lisa Lapointe. "It's hard to imagine any other cause of death in this province where six people would be dying every day and there isn't a massive public health response."

The province declared the overdose crisis a Public Health Emergency more than seven years ago.

Dix said regulated safer supply is just one facet of the province’s strategy on mental health and addictions.

“We have never seen this level of growth in those services and the challenge is massive,” he said. “So, in all areas, we’re taking action and it requires all areas. It’s not a one area response. It’s not a safe supply response. It is part of the response.”


Much of the discussion around safer supply has been charged with political rhetoric.

Pierre Poilievre, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, has been a very outspoken critic of harm reduction policies.

In May, he brought a motion before Parliament taking aim at federal funding for pharmaceutical alternatives as a replacement for illicit drugs to combat the opioid crisis.

MPs defeated his motion by in a 209-113 vote.

In an interview with CTV News, Lapointe urged politicians and the public to focus on medical science and not ideology when it comes to the safer supply debate.

“People can have different opinions and beliefs but when we are wanting to resolve a serious medical crisis, I think it’s really, really important that we have an evidence-based response to crisis,” she said.

Street drug toxicity is now the leading cause of death in the province for people between the ages of 10 and 59. Top Stories


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