Premier says he 'regrets' choice of words to describe addiction
VICTORIA -- A day after he said addiction starts out with a choice, B.C. Premier John Horgan said he regrets his choice of words.
During his weekly media availability Thursday, the premier was asked about June’s record-breaking drug overdose deaths. He faced questions about why it was difficult to get traction on the public health emergency related to opioids versus the pandemic-related emergency.
“I just think these are two separate things,” started Horgan. “We have an insidious virus that affects anyone at any time and we have an opioid crisis that involves people using drugs. Those are choices, initially, and then they become dependencies. Once people make those choices they no longer are in a position to stop making those choices without medical intervention, so I think they're two completely different things.”
Horgan also said he’d be advocating for the decriminalization of the personal possession of opioids.
The comments around choice were quickly criticized by harm reduction advocates who said they were disrespectful and mischaracterized the true root of addiction.
Friday, Horgan said he misspoke.
“I regret that I mischaracterized the challenges of addictions, I know that addictions come from a place of despair and from trauma.”
He went on to say he had been asked several questions about the two emergencies and tried to find a different way to express his viewpoint and that perhaps he talked for ‘too long.’ He did not directly apologize to drug users.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who is leading the province’s response to the overdose crisis, as well as to COVID-19, was asked about the comments Thursday. She said drug use is often rooted in physical, emotional, or mental pain.
“We know that particularly for opioids, they change our brain in ways that many of us are fine with, but some people, there's that combination of their own emotional, physical state, their genetics and the way their brain reacts to substances that make it much more likely that they are going to develop an addiction,” she added.
Henry also said she didn’t think the premier’s words represented Horgan’s views, as the two have had several conversations about addictions.
Henry advocated for a change in policing in British Columbia so those with small amounts of opioids for personal use would not be treated like criminals.
In her 2019 special report, “Stopping the Harm” she wrote: “Immediate provincial action is warranted, and I recommend that the province of B.C. urgently move to decriminalize people who possess controlled substances for personal use.”
The provincial government has not acted on that, even though the doctor says there are measures that can be taken in B.C. Instead, the province is calling on the federal government to make a change to the criminal code.