WATCH: 'Courageous change' needed to address toxic drug crisis: chief coroner

Report calls on government to make changes to stop deaths

  • Over 6,000 deaths in last four years
  • Calls for pandemic-like emergency action

Deaths from toxic drugs in B.C. continue to escalate at an alarming rate and a new Death Review Panel report is calling for “courageous changes,” according to B.C.’s Chief Coroner, Lisa Lapointe.

The report, involving over 20 leading experts, and the second of its kind in the last four years, urges government to take three critical areas of action to prevent more loss of life.

A further 6,007 people have died, at a rate of almost six per day, since the panel's first report in 2018.

Among the actions being called for is: access to a safe drug supply; a 30, 60 and 90 day action plan involving public health; and an evidence-based continuum of care to support substance users.

“British Columbia has lost more than 9,000 lives since the beginning of 2016,” LaPointe told a media conference Wednesday. “This public health emergency shows no signs of abating and thousands more lives are at risk.”

The recommendations from the panel also repeats the calls already voiced in this province for the federal government to decriminalize substance use so people using illicit drugs can access support and services without stigma.

The coroner’s service said toxic illicit drugs are now the leading cause of death in B.C., accounting for more deaths than homicides, suicides, motor vehicle incidents, drownings and fire-related deaths combined.

“To provide some perspective, since the public health emergency was declared, more people have died than the populations of Revelstoke, Kitimat, Merritt, Hope, or Cumberland,” Death Panel Review chair Michael Eglison said. “More people have died than would fit in Save On Foods Memorial Arena in Victoria.”

Eglison said the sorts of urgent action needed by government are along the lines seen in how the COVID pandemic was handled, with extra resources and even emergency legislation.

“This report includes realistic, actionable recommendations that the panel believes will reduce the number of people dying due to toxic, illicit drugs in our province," Eglison said.

“We recognize that many of the timelines in the report are aggressive, but COVID-19 has demonstrated how swiftly policy-makers can act when lives are at stake – and we know that every month of inaction equates to hundreds more lives lost.”

Lapointe explained neither the panel nor her office has the power to demand political leaders act. However, she said the regular monthly reports on toxic drug deaths, and now this panel of experts, had come up with "thoughtful recommendations aimed at turning this crisis around."

“It is my sincere hope that those in positions to influence change at a very senior level will acknowledge that some very courageous change is needed," Lapointe said. "We’ve seen that doing things the way they’ve always been done has not been successful; has got us to where we are today."

Published 2022-03-09 by Glenn Hicks

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