April 14 marks the passage of one year since the provincial government declared a public-health emergency related to illicit-drug overdose deaths.
Since then, almost another 1,000 people have died, about five times the annual average of 204 deaths for the years 2001 to 2010.
The same week, the B.C. Liberals released their party platform for the upcoming provincial election (May 9), and it doesn’t include much on the crisis, candidates for the NDP and the Greens were quick to point out.
“I’m appalled,” said Selina Robinson, the NDP MLA for Coquitlam-Maillardville. “This says that they don’t care.”
Robinson told the Straight the NDP will reveal its plan for responding to the overdose crisis this Thursday (April 13).
“You’ll see our platform later this week and there will be some details in there that will shed a light on something that the B.C. Liberals and Christy Clark have left in the dark,” she said in a telephone interview.
In the Liberals’ platform, the overdose epidemic is first referenced on page 103 of 129, toward the bottom of a section on mental health.
“2016 was also a year of needless deaths from opioid overdoses, particularly with the rise of illicit fentanyl and carfentanil across Canada,” it reads. “Here in B.C., we have led the country in our response to this crisis, being the first province to declare a public health emergency and assemble an expert Joint Task Force.”
On future action, the Liberals’ platform promises $12 million for “up to 28 highly specialized addiction treatment beds for youth”, $2 million annually for the new Vancouver-based B.C. Centre on Substance Use, and $10 million “to reduce wait lists for substance use treatment services”. In addition, a re-elected Liberal government would create 250 new beds for mental health and substance use by 2022.
Jonina Campbell, the B.C. Green candidate for New Westminster, told the Straight that her party plans to give the crisis “significantly” more attention than the current government.
“When the Liberals talk about keeping B.C. strong, they are obviously referring to a community that does not include those who are struggling with mental health and addictions,” she said. “There just was not enough there to show that that is going to be a priority for them.”
At an April 11 memorial in the Downtown Eastside marking the public emergency’s one-year anniversary, harm-reduction advocate Sarah Blyth argued that the overdose epidemic is an issue every candidate should be talking about.
“We’re going to make it a provincial election issue whether they like it or not,” she said. “People are dying. If that’s not an election issue, then I don’t know what is.”