Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)

B.C. overdose deaths still rising 5 years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

April 14 marks five years since B.C. declared the overdose crisis a public health emergency. But half a decade later, overdoses are still increasing and advocacy groups are calling for more government action.

In 2016, the overdose issue might have gone unnoticed to many British Columbians. That was true for Jennifer Howard.

“I couldn’t imagine that was something that would ever impact me,” Howard told Black Press Media.

But one month after the declaration, she lost her son Robby to an overdose. When he died at the age of 24, Howard said Robby was incredibly loved and had dreams for the future. But the life trauma he had experienced, along with struggling through anxiety and depression, led Robby to substance use.

He died, like the majority of B.C.’s drug deaths, while at home.

READ: Victoria bereavement group a ‘safe place’ for those who’ve lost loved ones to substance use

“He couldn’t reach out and share that he was struggling,” Howard said.

She wonders if her son’s life could’ve been saved if there was no substance-use stigma and Robby, like many others, didn’t have to hide his addiction. She wishes he could’ve asked for help without the fear of judgment or repercussions.

“Our response needs to be in a health-care model, where we support people, where there isn’t shame and stigma attached to drug use and where people have the right to proper medical support and care.”

The most recent information from the BC Coroners Service shows 2020 was the province’s deadliest year of the crisis yet. B.C. had 1,724 drug toxicity deaths in 2020, up from the previous high of 1,550 people in 2018. With the exception of 2019, overdose deaths in the province have increased every year since the public health emergency declaration and 2020 had almost three times the 2015 total.

READ: With 1,716 deaths, 2020 deadliest year of overdose crisis in B.C. history

Moms Stop the Harm — a group of people who have lost loved ones to overdose and advocates for life-saving drug policy and support — says the number of British Columbians dying from preventable overdoses is unacceptable. Howard, the group’s program director, said stigma at all levels of government is to blame for the ongoing crisis and saving lives will take political will and funding.

“We are demanding an immediate response regarding safe supply for those who struggle (with substance use),” she said.

Howard said safe substance supply would give people stability while they receive support for the complex factors that can lead people to substance use — such as experienced trauma, mental health issues or poverty.

Saving lives means ensuring drug users have access to safe and regulated options so they don’t have to turn illicit sources that could contain toxic and deadly substances, Howard said — adding that fentanyl is found in 87 per cent of illicit drugs.

“So much more has to be done to address this issue, but the first thing that we need to do is ensure that people are safe,” she said. “What we know now is substance use has no economic boundaries, it can happen to anyone.”

Moms Stop the Harm is holding a masked and distanced event, from noon to 1:30 p.m., at the B.C. legislature on April 14 for the declaration’s fifth anniversary. They’ll be calling on the government to immediately provide safe supply options for every B.C. community and for the decriminalization of illicit drug possession.

READ: Canadian policing organization calls for decriminalization of simple illicit drug possession

Howard said the collective grief felt by B.C. families can’t be measured.

“I miss (Robby) every day,” she said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him.”

From 2016 to the end of this February, 7,072 British Columbians have died due to overdose.


Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:jake.romphf@blackpress.ca. Follow us on Instagram.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Victoria

Just Posted

The Independent Investigations Office of BC (IIO) (File Photo)
Police watchdog investigating after man found dead in South Surrey following a wellness check

IIO says officers ‘reportedly spoke to a man at the home before departing’

Surrey RCMP in the 4900-block of 148th Street, a short road just off of King George Boulevard, on May 15, 2021 after a male was allegedly assaulted with a “pipe-like” weapon that morning. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Surrey RCMP investigating after person reportedly injured with ‘pipe-like’ weapon

Police investigating incident in the 4900-block of 148th Street

The leadership team at Johnston Heights Secondary is looking to raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society through the Relay for Life, planned as an online and in-person event (following COVID-19 restrictions) for the week of June 1 to 7.
Pushed back a year, Surrey students well on their way to Relay for Life fundraising goal

Johnston Heights Leadership Team aims to raise $6,500 for Canadian Cancer Society

A detail of White Rock artist Marilyn Dyer's painting New Mountains, one of her works in the show Delineations at Surrey Art Gallery until June 6
White Rock artist Marilyn Dyer featured in SAG show

Dyer and Vancouver sculptor Gailan Ngan team for Delineations exhibit

An animated Gordie Hogg introduces his ‘Community Connections’ videos. (YouTube screenshot)
Community Connections: Gordie Hogg speaks with Doug Stone

Former mayor, MP began posting conversations on YouTube in June

On Friday, May 14 at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, Michael Caan joined a very elite club of golfers who have shot under 60 (Instagram)
Crowds at English Bay were blasted with a large beam of light from an RCMP Air-1 helicopter on Friday, May 14. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison
Police enlist RCMP helicopter to disperse thousands crowded on Vancouver beach

On Friday night, police were witness to ‘several thousand people staying well into the evening’

People shop in Chinatown in Vancouver on Friday, February 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver community leaders call for action following 717% rise in anti-Asian hate crimes

‘The alarming rise of anti-Asian hate in Canada and south of the border shows Asians have not been fully accepted in North America,’ says Carol Lee

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
Body of UBC professor found on Salt Spring Island, no foul play suspected

Sinikka Elliott taught sociology at the university

The first Black judge named to the BC Supreme Court, Selwyn Romilly, was handcuffed at 9:15 a.m. May 14 while walking along the seawall. (YouTube/Screen grab)
Police apologize after wrongly arresting B.C.’s first Black Supreme Court Justice

At 81 years old, the retired judge was handcuffed in public while out for a walk Friday morning

Dr. Steve Beerman, of Nanaimo, shows off his Dr. David Bishop Gold Medal, awarded for distinguished medical service. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Queen presents Vancouver Island doctor with award for global drowning prevention

Dr. Steve Beerman receives Royal Life Saving Society’s King Edward VII Cup at virtual ceremony

Former UFV Cascades wrestling coach Arjan Singh Bhullar is now the ONE heavyweight champion after defeating Brandon Vera via TKO in round two on Saturday in Singapore. (ONE Championship)
Former UFV wrestling coach wins MMA championship

Arjan Singh Bhullar captures ONE heavyweight title, first Indian origin fighter to achieve honour

Most Read