‘There is much more to do’: B.C. marks eight years of toxic-drug health emergency

Eight years to the day after British Columbia declared a public health emergency, Premier David Eby said the toxic drug crisis has had a “catastrophic impact” on families and communities.

“Every life taken by this crisis is a loss to our community — they are friends, parents, siblings and children. To the families, friends and loved ones: we see you, we stand with you and we share in your pain,” Eby said in a statement.

He said the situation needs to be recognized as a “health crisis,” as his government tries to build and improve the mental-health and addictions-care system in the province.

“Our government is committed to saving lives and building a better, more connected system of mental-health and addictions care. This includes expanding access to two innovative made-in-B.C. models of care: the Red Fish Healing Centre model, which prioritizes trauma-informed care; and the Road to Recovery model, which helps patients move seamlessly through a full spectrum of treatment services,” Eby said.

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“We are also expanding youth mental-health and addictions supports, including by partnering on a first-of-its-kind centre to support Indigenous youth with detox services.

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“There is much more to do.”

More than 14,000 people have died from toxic drugs since the public health emergency was declared eight years ago.

The rate of overdose deaths in B.C. is roughly twice as high as it was in 2016.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said in the statement issued Sunday that the public-health emergency has strained the province in “unprecedented ways.”

Henry says drug users come from “all walks of life,” often dealing with trauma, and those who try to free themselves from addiction have to go through a recovery process that isn’t “linear” or hinged upon total abstinence.

“Recovery is a complex journey, and it is different for everyone. People who use drugs come from all walks of life in all parts of this province. That diversity is also reflected in why people use drugs in the first place. For many, it is to deal with pain, physical, emotional and psychological pain often stemming from previous trauma,” Henry said.

“But we also know the effects of anti-Indigenous racism and the intergenerational trauma from colonial practices have led to disproportionate impacts on First Nations, Inuit and Métis people in B.C.”

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The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users said that the anniversary comes as the crisis has “morphed into a toxic political issue.” The network, along with other drug-user associations, is part of a town hall being held on Sunday to address the public-health emergency.

— With files from Canadian Press

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