VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) – Premier Christy Clark says the ongoing opioid crisis was both the biggest story and most significant challenge for BC in 2016.
In a year-end interview with NEWS 1130, Clark says no one predicted the devastation the drugs would wreak upon the province. “Nobody really saw it coming the way it did and it’s just been a terrible crisis and everyone one of those deaths is preventable,” says Clark. “There are lots of challenges in the course of the year but this is one where people are dying every day and resources have just been completely overwhelmed.”
Illicit drug overdose deaths in BC for 2016 reached an all-time high of 755 by the end of November with December numbers expected next month for a grand total. November also had the monthly record number of deaths with 128, an average of more than four a day.
December numbers are well on their way to breaking records, with 13 people dying in one night, nine of which were in Vancouver. The deaths prompted Vancouver’s chiefs of police and fire to wade into the political realm and ask for more resources and focus to get people into detox and treatment faster, and not just harm reduction strategies like supervised injection sites. Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer says in some cases, people are waiting more than a week for detox treatment and slip back into using during that time.
Clark says first responders may receive additional resources in the New Year. “We’re just about wrapped up opening up this next set of beds for detox for people and we’ll do more if that’s what the experts tell us that we need to do,” Clark says.
Despite Clark’s promise made three years ago to add the treatment beds, the number of beds for youth aged 19 and under in BC dropped to 89, a 25 per cent decrease from its peak in 2012.
LISTEN: Premier Christy Clark speaks with NEWS 1130 Digital Reporter Lasia Kretzel
Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced a series of legislative changes recently to make it easier to open supervised injection sites, but not before BC put pressure on Ottawa by opening seven drug injection sites in Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria.
Clark continues to stress there is no one solution. “The thing that makes this such a tough issue is we need treatment beds, better wrap around service for people who are addicted to get help,” she says. “We need more police, drug interdiction, [Canadian Border Service Agency] stopping drugs at the border, a treaty with China that will help make sure they help us stop it from coming in across the border.”