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Our View: The other epidemic in B.C. has claimed too many lives

New measures beyond simple enforcement have to change the playing field
Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe speaks during a press conference at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on February 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

More people died of drug overdoses and a toxic drug supply in B.C. last year than died of the coronavirus, data from the B.C. Coroner’s Service shows.

The numbers released last week paint a grim picture – after some hard-won progress since 2017 and 2018, when deaths spiked wildly, 2020 was the worst year in history for drug deaths, for British Columbia.

For the most part, they died alone. Statistics have shown that the majority of the victims will have been male, most will have been between 20 and 50.

Some will have been frequent drug users, addicts, while others will have been casual users. Many had jobs, almost all had an apartment or home where they could lay their head down at night.

In response to this ongoing crisis, governments are making moves that go counter to the decades old “war on drugs” mentality.

Overdose Prevention Sites have become widespread in our communities, including some that weren’t considered hotbeds of drug activity until we saw the death rates spike.

The overdose crisis is not just killing people, it’s killing off our ideas of who is using drugs in our communities, of what drug users look like and act like, whose sons and daughters they are.

That’s the only good thing to come out of this miserable situation.

We can only assess the tools to prevent drug overdoses and toxicity deaths when we shed our preconceptions. It’s hard to believe, after pure enforcement has failed for so long, that we’ll ever “clean up the streets” just by jailing gangsters.

A mixture of regulated supply to cut off violent criminals from their cash, with a strong component of education, prevention, and expansive treatment and detox options looks like the best way to save lives going forward.

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