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Drug advocates vow to occupy B.C. ministers' offices
About four people lose their lives to the opioid epidemic every day in B.C.
Drug policy advocates say they’re fed up with the status quo and are demanding the province take action right away.
In response, a group of local activists says it will be occupying Health Minister Adrian Dix’s office in East Vancouver on Wednesday
“Adrian Dix has been missing in action since the overdose crisis began,” reads the Facebook event. “We need the health minister to initiate an immediate safe drug supply…he has that authority and the resources.”
When activists arrived, they were disappointed to learn the constituency office was closed.
“He made a decision not to show up,” says organizer Dana Larsen. “We’re not going to be violent or cause any problems like that. We just wanted to talk to him and make a point here. I think it is really shameful that our health minister has taken the day off today.”
The group listed five specific demands, ranging from the government decriminalizing drug users to offering better access to regulated drugs, distributed through vending machines.
The group also wants the province to negotiate a lower price for injectable hydromorphone.
“A major key is to stop the arrest of drug users. We live in a province where the government is telling us they want to destigmatize drug users, well you can’t end the stigma without ending the arrests,” explains Larsen.
Lizzie O Sullivan, a member of Moms Stop The Harm, believes if those initiatives were in place a couple of years ago, her son wouldn’t have died of an opioid overdose.
“He tried to quit drugs entirely on his own and that was where he went wrong,” she says. “If he had been able to get his drugs tested, if he had not used alone, all those things would’ve helped him. He was 38 when he died.”
In response to the occupy demonstration, Dix says the province is continuining to escalate its response to the crisis.
“Right now the government is working with doctors, nurses and pharmacists to actively look at expanding legal, prescription alternatives to the toxic drug supply that can be provided under medical supervision to save lives. At the same time, decriminalization remains up to the federal government,” he says in an email statement.
The email does not address why the constituency office was closed on a day when it typically is open.
The group says it will be occupying various ministers’ offices every Wednesday for the next several weeks, including the offices of Attorney General David Eby, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and Mental Health Minister Judy Darcy.
The demonstration comes on the heels of a safe drug supply pilot project seeing success.
In January, Portland Hotel Society launched a pilot program that offers about 60 patients the opioid hydromorphone in pill form. The group crushes the pill for them and watches them inject it in an overdose prevention site.
No one has had an overdose since entering the pilot program, according to PHS.
The pilot is scheduled for five years and B.C. Centre for Substance Use will be evaluating it.