Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Dr. Evan Wood from the B.C. Centre for Substance Abuse discuss solutions to overdose deaths in the province, B.C. legislature, Feb. 7, 2019. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

B.C. VIEWS: Time to listen to the doctors and legalize opioid drugs

Answer is the same as marijuana, get the criminal gangs out

As the B.C. Coroners Service released its 2018 overdose-related death totals, showing four people a day are still dying from mainly fentanyl-contaminated street drugs, there was a desperate edge to the message.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, pleaded with politicians to take action beyond handing out overdose kits and declaring emergencies. In short, prohibition is pushing users onto the street, and the flow of smuggled fentanyl, mainly from China, hasn’t slowed despite frantic efforts to harden North America’s borders to it.

The grim update was provided by B.C. Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe, Henry and Dr. Evan Wood, executive director of the B.C. Centre for Substance Use. People who follow this story will know that paramedics, nurses and doctors are run ragged, mostly reviving hardcore street users with Naloxone injections, sometimes multiple times in the same day.

READ MORE: Almost 1,500 B.C. deaths in 2018 overdose-related

READ MORE: Mothers of those who died call for action in B.C.

Meanwhile, people continue to die at home, alone. The vast majority are men between the ages of 30 and 59. They’re not classic junkies, and as a member of that demographic I would suggest that most of them hold down jobs rather than descending to stealing or selling their bodies to get the next fix.

Wood reluctantly calls them “weekend warriors.” Another interesting stat is that the majority of them are buying stimulants, mostly cocaine or methamphetamine, that turns out to be contaminated with fentanyl. More on that in a minute.

The message to politicians was clear. Henry noted that federal law criminalizing narcotic possession is the main obstacle to progress, and that prescription substitutes such as diacetylmorphine have shown significant results in the limited tests Ottawa has allowed.

“That’s what my office is working on … how we can have de facto decriminalization of people who use drugs in B.C., recognizing that is one of the huge challenges that is leading to people using street drugs and dying, and using alone,” Henry said.

Wood said public education is needed “so the winds start to blow in a direction where the politicians see where they can really act freely and start applying some of the public health models.”

Henry said B.C. is studying Portugal’s prescription model, which is held up as an international success. In 2001, drug laws there were amended to keep hard drugs illegal, except for authorized personal use. Anyone caught with up to 10 days’ unauthorized supply is subject to an administrative penalty rather than facing jail time for possession of heroin, cocaine or the synthetic variants now cranked out by organized crime.

Coroner Lapointe referred to a survey of B.C. users that found almost half claimed they were looking for pain relief. Given the option of “pain-related,” that’s what they told surveyors.

“Pain-related wasn’t defined,” Lapointe said. “Was that physical pain, was that emotional pain, was that psychological pain? But people are reaching out for help.”

This is where I beg to differ with the soothing message of the medical establishment. People aren’t scoring tainted coke or meth because their knees are sore, or their divorce was unpleasant. They’re doing it because decades of popular culture have taught them that getting high and partying are the main reasons to go to work.

Prohibition didn’t work for booze, it didn’t work for marijuana, and it won’t work for “ecstasy” or heroin either. Fentanyl, a needed painkiller for people dealing with cancer or major surgery, might just open the eyes of timid politicians to the need to act.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press Media. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Terrace Minor Softball closes season with wins

Teams with be competing in nationals in Saskatoon

Malicious Monster Truck Tour returns to Northwest

Crowds gathered at the airport for show

Northern B.C.’s Ridley coal terminal sold, Canada divests, First Nations to own portion

Ten per cent of shares transferred to the Lax Kw’alaams Band and the Metlakatla First Nation

Skeena mainstem closed to recreational sockeye

Escapements expected to be below 800,000 threshold

VIDEO: B.C. MLA Michelle Stilwell takes first steps in nearly 30 years

‘It actually felt like walking. It’s been 27 years… but it felt realistic to me’

Report of dead body in B.C. park actually headless sex doll

This discovery, made at Manning Park on July 10, led police to uncovering two other sex mannequins

Grand Forks fire chief found to have bullied, harassed volunteer firefighter: report

WorkSafeBC, third-party human resources investigation looking into allegations complete

Dog recovering after being drenched in hot coffee, B.C. man charged

Man was taken into custody, charged, and released pending a court date

Taekwondo instructor, 21, identified as B.C. bat rabies victim

Nick Major, 21, an instructor at Cascadia Martial Arts in Parksville

Science expedition to Canada’s largest underwater volcano departs Vancouver Island

Crews prepared for a two-week research mission to the Explorer Seamount

B.C. shipyard to get one-third of $1.5 billion frigate-repair contract

The federal government has promised to invest $7.5 billion to maintain the 12 frigates

Worried about bats? Here’s what to do if you come across one in B.C.

Bat expert with the BC Community Bat Program urges caution around the small creatures

B.C. on right road with tougher ride-hailing driver rules, says expert

The provincial government is holding firm that ride-hailing drivers have a Class 4 licence

Most Read