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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Primary Urgent Care Centre on Martin Street officially opened on March 31, 2021. (Brennan Phillips)
Okanagan-Similkameen Regional Hospital District reverses funding decision on care centre

Approval now granted to fund $1 million for Urgent and Primary Care Centre in Penticton

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is an independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C.’s 1st vaccine-induced blood clot case detected in Interior Health

Interior Health also recorded 52 new cases of COVID-19

Motorists breaking travel rules can be fined $230 for failing to follow instructions or $575 if the reason for travel violates the essential travel health order, at this Highway 3 check area near Manning Park. Photo RCMP
RCMP begin checking drivers on BC highways

Four check points are set up Thursday May 6 around the province

Similkameen Elementary Secondary School (google maps)
More potential exposures dates added to Keremeos school by Interior Health

The entire school week from April 26 to 30 now had a potential exposure

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Kelowna City Hall. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
New temporary outdoor shelter in Kelowna opens

The new area on Richter Street and Weddell Place replaces the Baillie Avenue site

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

Jason Townsend wearing his Kelowna Hells Angels prospect patches. (Jason Townsend/Facebook)
Crown stays domestic assault charges against Kelowna Hells Angels prospect

Jason Townsend, 43, was charged in August 2020 with assault and assault by choking

Most Read