By Spencer Hall

It’s been over eight years since the Province declared a public health emergency due to increased opioid overdoses and deaths, but the death toll from the unregulated drug supply continues to escalate.

Earlier this month, outgoing Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe announced that 2,511 people died in B.C. from suspected toxic drug poisoning ” a new grim record for the province.

A third review of the toxic drug crisis by the BC Coroner Service, which was released in November 2023, called for “non-medical models to distribute safe supply,” meaning substance users in BC would be able to access substances without a prescription or having to see a doctor.

Premier David Eby told the press last week he doesn’t believe that providing “incredibly toxic opioid drugs without the supervision of a medical professional in British Columbia is the way forward and the way out of the toxic drug crisis.”

However, seeing as only 5,000 British Columbians have access to prescribed safe supply, something must be done to reduce barriers to the program.

While it seems contradictory to give substances to those experiencing problematic substance use issues, the idea behind the safe supply program is to reduce dependency on the unregulated drug supply to keep those who use substances alive long enough for the individual to receive other forms of treatment. As MLA Dan Davies once told me while I was covering overdose deaths in the Peace Region, you can’t treat a dead person.

Often if someone is forced into treatment, once they’re released they relapse, which often leads to overdose as their tolerance is diminished.

The Province needs to do more to combat the toxic drug crisis and must be open to new ideas, especially when those ideas, while seemingly contradictory, are based on evidence and come from a panel of doctors from across B.C.