‘B.C. cannot wait for action’: Top doctor urges province to decriminalize illicit drugs

Dr. Bonnie Henry says current approach in ‘war on drugs’ has criminalized and stigmatized drug users

B.C.’s top doctor says that if the province wants to stop illicit drugs from wiping out thousands of people, it must decriminalize street drugs.

In her report Wednesday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the country’s approach in its war on drugs has criminalized and stigmatized drug users – arresting and punishing them – instead of treating the current state of drug use as what is ultimately a health issue.

“In the context of the continuing overdose crisis that is affecting families and communities across B.C., the province cannot wait for action at the federal level,” Henry 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.”

Henry has also urged the federal government to regulate access to controlled drugs. Her calls for a clean supply of legal opioids follow similar calls by her predecessor Dr. Perry Kendall and B.C. chief coroner Lisa Lapointe.

Roughly four people die each day of an overdose in B.C. More than 3,000 have died since 2017.

READ MORE: B.C. opioid overdoses still killing four people a day, health officials say

READ MORE: B.C. launches new drug-checking program, expands fentanyl testing

The province has the power to decriminalize drug use and eliminate criminal possession charges in two ways through the Police Act, Henry said. The federal Constitution Act gives provincial legislatures the power to make or change its laws as an administration of justice.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth can implement a “harm reduction approach” that allows police to link drug users to health and social services. Or, he can include a provision within the legal framework to prevent police officers from enforcing simple possession.

“If the intention of a prohibition-based system was to protect individuals from harms inherent to substance use, then this policy approach has significantly failed to achieve this goal at an individual or population level,” Henry wrote.

“Evidence shows that this approach has had the opposite effect and has substantially increased harms. Law enforcement and health officials recognize that B.C. cannot arrest its way out of the overdose crisis.”

At least 30 countries – including Portugal, Australia, Spain, Uruguay, Norway, Chile and some U.S. jurisdictions – are exploring, or have in place, an alternative policy option that decriminalizes people for simple possession and use of controlled substances.

Black Press Media has reached out to the public safety ministry and the B.C. RCMP for comment.

Overdose deaths by city
Infogram

The 47-page report details the many methods so far taken by both the provincial and federal governments to avert an estimated 60 per cent of possible overdose deaths since Kendall declared a public health emergency in B.C. in April 2016.

READ MORE: Sell regulated heroin to curb B.C.’s overdose problem, report says

READ MORE: Should B.C. nix ‘Welfare Wednesday’ and stagger income assistance cheques?

Initiatives highlighted by Henry include rapid distribution of free naloxone kits, the rollout of overdose prevention sites, and the creation of a separate mental health and addictions ministry. She also noted the federal Good Samaritan law, which ensures police officers are not among the first responders to attend 911 overdose call. This is to remove the drug user’s fear of being criminally charged.

“Despite these life-saving activities, the BC Coroners Service reports that the number of deaths has continued to rise and remains at consistently high levels throughout the province,” the report said, especially affecting Indigenous people and men aged 30 to 59 years old.

One substantial factor in the ongoing overdose crisis is B.C.’s highly toxic illegal supply of fentanyl and carfentanil, Henry said, both of which are almost completely displacing diverted prescription opioids and illegal heroin.

READ MORE: Carfentanil found in 15% of overdose deaths in January: B.C. coroner

A more comprehensive report is expected in coming months, according to the health ministry, and will examine overdose deaths, response efforts, and some related impacts of overdose deaths, including a drop in life expectancy at birth for all British Columbians.

Read the full report below:

Stopping The Harm report by Dr. Bonnie Henry by Ashley Wadhwani on Scribd


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Severe storm warning remains in effect for the Kootenays

Two special weather statements have been issued for the West Kootenay

Update: Suspect in Montrose gas station stabbing new to the area

Police say the 30-year-old suspect stabbed a Montrose gas station employee

Trail family rallies for Ronald McDonald House

“We always described it as our oasis in the middle of the desert.”

Powerful thunderstorms called for the West Kootenay this weekend

Environment Canada issued a special weather statement Thursday afternoon.

RDKB launches survey to address housing needs in the district

Communities in the district include Trail, Grand Forks, Rossland and Fruitvale

11 new COVID-19 cases in B.C. as top doc urges caution amid ‘encouraging’ low rates

Dr. Bonnie Henry also announced that two care home outbreaks would be declared over

Surrey mayor’s party under fire for ‘sickening’ tweet accusing northern B.C. RCMP of murder

Mayor Doug McCallum says tweet, Facebook post ‘sent out by unauthorized person’

Father’s Day Walk Run for prostate cancer will be virtual event this year throughout B.C.

The annual fundraiser for Prostate Cancer Foundation BC has brought in $2.5 million since 1999

Dr. Bonnie Henry announces official ban on overnight kids’ camps this summer

New ban comes after talking with other provincial health officials across the country, Henry says

Senior man in hospital after unprovoked wolf attack near Prince Rupert

Conservation officers are on site looking for the wolf

VIDEO: NASA astronauts blast off into space on SpaceX rocket

Marks NASA’s first human spaceflight launched from U.S. soil in nearly a decade

PHOTOS: U.S. cities brace for increasing unrest over police killing of George Floyd

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has fully mobilized the state’s National Guard

$200,000 Maybach impounded after ‘L’ driver caught excessively speeding in Vancouver

Meanwhile, the supervisor sat in the passenger seat, police said

COVID-19 cancelled their wedding plans, so they married on a B.C. mountaintop

Ceremony was live streamed to friends and family around the world

Most Read