Premier John Horgan; Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions; and Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, have issued the following statement on the five-year anniversary of drug-related overdoses being declared a public health emergency in British Columbia:
“Today, people in every community throughout the province hold sorrow in their hearts for loved ones lost, as we mark the sombre five-year anniversary of British Columbia’s overdose emergency.
“As we grieve the more than 7,000 people who have died by overdose since the public health emergency began, we reaffirm that we cannot – and will not – allow this tragedy to continue.
“Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, overdose deaths had declined for the first time since 2012. The pandemic set us back with a disruption in the supply chain for illicit drugs, making them highly toxic and unpredictable, in addition to increased isolation. Tragically, more people died by overdose in 2020 than ever before in our province’s history.
“After seeing deaths come down in 2019, we know what public health measures can work to turn this crisis around. We have accelerated our Province’s overdose response exponentially over the past four years – and we will do more in 2021 and beyond.
“In addition to expanding proven, life-saving measures – such as supervised consumption sites and making naloxone widely available – we are building up treatment and recovery services, adding new beds around the province, and trailblazing first-in-Canada solutions like prescribed safe supply, nurse prescribing and taking action on decriminalization.
“British Columbia is the only province that has taken the important step to declare a public health emergency, despite this being a national crisis. We are working urgently to make complex, groundbreaking changes within B.C.’s health care system to evolve how we approach and treat people living with addictions.
“Changes of this scale take time, but we are working tirelessly to keep moving forward while saving as many lives as possible. We send our most heartfelt condolences to all those who are grieving today and every day. We won’t stop working until we build the comprehensive system of mental health and addictions care that people in British Columbia deserve.”