Vancouver mourns lives lost to overdose on third anniversary of B.C.’s public health emergency

Kennedy Stewart
Official photo

SUNDAY marked the 1090th day since B.C. declared the increase in overdose deaths as a public health emergency. Many lives were lost to overdose prior to this declaration. Since April 14, 2016, more than 3,600 people have lost their lives to overdose in B.C. with more than 1,000 of these deaths happening in Vancouver.

Driven by an increasingly toxic, unregulated drug supply that is contaminated by fentanyl, carfentanil, and other contaminants, deaths from drug poisoning in Vancouver have increased every year since 2014, and the number of deaths continues to surpass historical highs. In B.C., the number of deaths from drug poisoning in 2019 currently equates to about 2.9 deaths per day, with Indigenous people being overrepresented due to the ongoing impacts of colonization.

In recognition of the lives that have been lost and are continuing to be lost in the overdose crisis, the City of Vancouver announced it will fly the city’s flag at half-mast on this day each year until B.C.’s provincial health officer rescinds the current state of public health emergency.

“Today and every day we mourn the loss of our friends, family, neighbours, and loved ones who were victims of a long-standing mental health and substance use crisis and a consistently poisoned drug supply,” said Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart. “The City is committed to addressing the issues that further exacerbate the struggles around substance use. A comprehensive approach to illicit substance use including prevention, harm reduction and treatment, will save so many lives. We call upon health professionals, all levels of government, and the public to join us in advocating for a safe drug supply, in Vancouver and elsewhere in Canada, to protect residents and prevent any more unnecessary deaths.”

The City is taking the following actions to respond to the crisis:

The Mayor’s Overdose Emergency Task Force, currently implementing the following items to prevent further deaths:

  • Investments in Indigenous healing and wellness
  • Supporting peer first responders to save lives
  • Expanding harm reduction in the Downtown East Side (DTES)
  • Supporting a safe supply of drugs
  • Expanding access to treatment supports
  • Outside of the DTES: harm reduction, treatment, and supports
  • Collective action with partners for systemic changes

To see the full report, click here.

Vancouver’s Community Action Team Grant program (CAT), representing approximately 25 organizations who are working on and/or are affected by the crisis. The main goals of CAT, which is co-chaired by the City and VCH, are:

  • To prevent people from using substances alone
  • Raise awareness of the role of drug policy
  • Expand low-barrier opioid distribution pilots
  • Support the well-being of the peer workforce.

Community investments ($3.5 million resulting from a tax increase), supporting community-based organizations working on the ground to respond to the overdose crisis. Some of these groups include: BC Centre on Substance Use, Vancouver Fire Rescue Services, Megaphone, The Metro Vancouver Aboriginal Executive Council, Lookout Housing + Health Society, RainCity Housing and Support Society, and PHS Community Services Society.

The City’s next steps for preventing more deaths from drug poisoning include: advocating and exploring opportunities for a safe supply of drugs; working with political leaders at all levels on strategies for addressing the overdose crisis and increasing access to a safe supply; and working collaboratively with our partners, including people with lived experience, on supporting community-based initiatives and de-stigmatizing mental health and substance use.

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