Families who’ve lost loved ones gathered in front of Member of Parliament Todd Doherty’s office in downtown Prince George to mark the sixth anniversary of the B.C. government declaring toxic drug deaths a public health emergency.
“We are still seeing thousands of deaths of our sons and daughters - 6.7 per day - and we need to see the deaths stop, at least be looked after, or slowed down,” said Corinne Woods, who lost her son Tony to opioid poisoning.
“We want to bring awareness that it has been six years and that it has been escalating and not slowing down.”
The families placed empty chairs on the sidewalk with photos and candles in remembrance of their loved ones.
“The empty chairs represent our children who were lost to fentanyl poisoning. They are what we have to deal with every day emotionally - the empty chair in our homes, our kids the ones we love, the ones we lost,” said Michelle Miller, who lost her 25-year-old son Tanner.
“To the families that have lost their children to the illicit fentanyl poisoning crisis. We know what you are going through. We care. There are supports out there and my heart goes out to you all,” added Miller.
Staff from Positive Living North also attended the event to provide free naloxone training, which is a medication used to reverse the effects of opioids by countering decreased breathing in opioid overdose.
The most recent B.C. Coroner’s report found that fentanyl continues to be the predominant substance found in post-mortem testing of overdose deaths.
Alarmingly, the toxicity of fentanyl is growing with February being the third consecutive month in which more than 20 per cent of fentanyl-positive test results had concentrations greater than 50 micrograms per litre.
“Part of why we need to be here today is that we need to break the stigma that surrounds substance use. We need to treat this fentanyl death poisoning crisis as a health emergency. This is not a criminal issue or a moral issue. We are losing our sons and daughters by the thousands per year,” added Woods.
“These are our loved ones. These are our children and they deserved a healthy chance at a long life. They should be here. Using substances for the first time, recreationally, or if you are a long-time substance user, should not be a death sentence.”
The toxic drug supply has claimed the lives of 9,410 British Columbians since January 2016.
B.C.’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe also released a statement recognizing the sixth anniversary of public health emergency into substance-related harms.
“Since 2016, the rate of death caused by the toxic drug supply has more than doubled, and in the northern part of our province, the rate has more than tripled. All of those lost were people who contributed to our province in ways big and small, and who were loved by family and friends,” said Lapointe.
“On this day of tremendous sadness, we know that more must be done and that a better future is possible. The deaths of more than 9,400 people over the past six years is a clear indication that new and innovative programs and options for people who use drugs are urgently needed, and that a health and wellness approach must replace the harmful, stigmatizing practices of the past.”
Lapointe is calling for greater access to safer supply across the province, alongside decriminalization of possession for personal use, greater access to evidence-based treatment and care, and a continuum of services that meets people where they are and supports those at risk.
Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond was also recently appointed to a provincial committee tasked with specifically examining the overdose crisis in B.C.