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 warm weather means time for a camping trip, or at least an excursion into nature. How much do you know about camps and camping-related facts? (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: Are you ready to go camping?

How many camp and camping-related questions can you answer?

Mario Bafaro awoke in the middle of the night on April 25 to his home on fire in the Big Eddy. (Liam Harrap - Revelstoke Review)
‘I didn’t know I had so many friends’: Revelstoke fire victim thanks community for support

Mario Bafaro lost his home and dogs in a house fire on April 25

Tim Miller is selling his 76-foot steel bridge from his property in Burton, B.C. The bridge originates from the railway in Revelstoke. (Contributed)
For sale: a 100-ton 19th century bridge from Revelstoke

Bridge is now in Burton, B.C. and advertised for $40,000

North Okanagan business Hytec Kohler set up a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Spallumcheen plant Friday, May 14. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
More than half of eligible adults in Interior Health vaccinated

Over 365,000 vaccine doses have been administered throughout the Interior Health region

New Border Bruins owner Dr. Mark Szynkaruk reps team colours with his young sons and wife Tracey. Photo courtesy of the Grand Forks Border Bruins
KIJHL’s Border Bruins sold to Grand Forks doctor

The league announced the sale Friday, May 14

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

Poached trees that were taken recently on Vancouver Island in the Mount Prevost area near Cowichan, B.C. are shown on Sunday, May 10, 2021. Big trees, small trees, dead trees, softwoods and hardwoods have all become valuable targets of tree poachers in British Columbia as timber prices hit record levels. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jen Osborne.
Tree poaching from public forests increasing in B.C. as lumber hits record prices

Prices for B.C. softwood lumber reached $1,600 for 1,000 board feet compared with about $300 a year ago

A man and woman, both 33 and from Kelowna, were arrested on Postill Lake Forest Service Road in possession of two stolen vehicles Friday, May 14, 2021. (File photo)
Kelowna duo arrested with stolen vehicles after ‘brief’ bicycle getaway attempt

A man and a woman were arrested on a forest service road on numerous pending charges

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The BC Conservation Officer Service (COS) handed out fines to two anglers on Shuswap Lake who were both casting more than one line, in violation of provincial regulations, Saturday, May 15, 2021. (COS photo)
Conservation officers snag Shuswap anglers for unlawful fishing

Two anglers were given $150 fines for casting two lines at once, against provincial regulations

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’

Lynda Saundry, born 1961, is charged with the murder of North Okanagan resident Barry Jones in July 2020. Saundry will appear in Vernon court May 17, 2021, to fix a date for a preliminary inquiry. (Facebook public photo)
North Okanagan murder suspect to be tried by judge and jury

Lynda Saundry is charged with the first-degree murder of Barry Jones in July 2020

Vernon Search and Rescue’s Legacy vessel is returning to Okanagan Lake for boating season, the society said Friday, May 14, 2021. (VSAR photo)
Vernon Search and Rescue vessel returns to Okanagan Lake

VSAR’s Legacy is back with a fresh coat of paint and some other upgrades

Most Read