BC’s chief coroner says province lacks action plan to address opioid epidemic

A group of family members stand with white crosses in front of them on a beach in Vancouver on a cloudy day
Families and friends who have lost loved ones to fatal overdoses in BC. Photo courtesy of Moms Stop the Harm
Lisa Cordasco - CHLY - NanaimoBC | 11-02-2021

British Columbia's chief coroner is calling on the province to create an action plan to deal with the opioid overdose crisis.

Lisa Lapointe says 2020 was the worst year yet, for fatal overdoses: 1,716 people in BC suffered toxic drug deaths last year. That's a 74 per cent increase from the year before and is more than all deaths caused annually by suicide, motor vehicle accidents, homicide and prescription drug overdoses combined.

Lapointe says the provincial government needs to start implementing the recommendations from a 2018 expert panel report into illicit drug deaths in BC. The coroner says government needs to start collecting data about the efficacy of treatment as well as setting standards for and creating oversight of treatment facilities:

 

BC's Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Sheila Malcolmson, insists the province has taken action:

 

Lapointe notes it has been five years since the then Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall declared opioid overdoses a "public health emergency."  The founder of the advocacy group "Mom's Stop the Harm" says the number one way to stop drug overdoses is to create a safe drug supply. Leslie McBain says the premier and the ministers of health and mental health and addictions have done little to make that happen:

 

Malcolmson says BC is doing what it can to provide a safe drug supply, but she says it's up to the federal government to decriminalize narcotics and to allow drugs like synthetic heroin to be prescribed:

 

Since taking power, the NDP government has announced more treatment beds and safe supply programs. But critics say BC needs to put as much effort and resources into solving the public health emergency of overdose deaths as it has in attending to the other public health emergency, the COVID-19 pandemic.