More than 1,700 lives lost in 2020 due to toxic illicit drugs; Minister takes new initiatives
BC Coroners Service reported yesterday that 2020 was B.C.’s worst year yet in terms of number of lives lost due to the effects of toxic illicit drugs.
After a decline 2019 (the first since 2012), “there were 1,716 deaths due to illicit drugs in 2020 in B.C., representing a 74% increase over the number of deaths recorded in 2019 (984). The number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2020 equates to about 4.7 deaths per day, which is two deaths per day higher than in 2019 (2.7).
“The toxic illicit drug supply in British Columbia has claimed more lives than motor-vehicle crashes, homicides, suicides and prescription-drug related deaths combined.
Among other points, the report noted that:
- “Illicit drug toxicity death rates among individuals aged 19-59 has been trending downwards over several months, while rates among persons aged 60 and up have been trending upwards. Rates among those aged 0-18 remain low.
- “No deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.
Mike Serr, chief constable, Abbotsford Police Department, said that “The deaths from the opioid crisis and toxic drug supply are devastating, and while B.C. police agencies will continue enforcement efforts to combat organized crime and those who import, produce and distribute highly toxic drugs on our streets, we need to fundamentally change the way we are addressing this public health emergency. We need to turn our minds and efforts on how we support persons who use these deadly street drugs to an integrated health-focused approach that supports individuals, families and communities.”
The Globe and Mail reported Wednesday that Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, has responded to this situation by asking the Federal Government “for a province-wide exemption from federal drug laws to remove criminal penalties for people possessing small amounts of drugs for personal use. Ms. Malcolmson said the change would help the province respond to a worsening overdose crisis that has taken thousands of lives in recent years. B.C. is the first province to seek such an exemption.
“Ms. Malcolmson’s letter outlined actions the province has taken to date, and said the COVID-19 pandemic has only added urgency. B.C. has identified “decriminalization as a critical component of a comprehensive response to addressing the overdose crisis and an important step to reducing system barriers,” the minister wrote.
“Proponents of decriminalization, which include the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, say it would … encourage people to seek treatment and other support. It would also break cycles of criminal recidivism stemming from addiction, free up law enforcement resources and remove barriers that block harm-reduction services such as checking street drugs for toxic substances.
“Decriminalization is not legalization. Personal possession and use of small amounts of illicit drugs would no longer be subject to criminal penalties, such as jail time, but possibly administrative penalties such as fines. The manufacturing and trafficking of illicit drugs would remain illegal.