'Timid' all-party report on B.C.'s toxic drug crisis doesn't go far enough, Greens leader says

Flags that represent the lives lost due to the tainted illicit drug supply are pictured during a Moms Stop The Harm memorial on the sixth anniversary of the toxic drug public health emergency in August. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Flags that represent the lives lost due to the tainted illicit drug supply are pictured during a Moms Stop The Harm memorial on the sixth anniversary of the toxic drug public health emergency in August. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

An all-party committee of B.C. lawmakers has released its recommendations for responding to the toxic drug crisis, echoing calls made many times for improved access to safe supply, regulated addiction-treatment services and expanded harm-reduction programs.

In all, there are 37 recommendations in the 75-page report, tabled in the legislature on Tuesday, which also touch on decriminalization, enforcement and prevention programs.

"We heard that some British Columbians are not able to access life-saving supports and services, either because they aren't available in their community or because of other barriers," committee chair and NDP MLA Niki Sharma said in a statement announcing the release of the report.

Green Party leader and committee member Sonia Furstenau released a statement Tuesday expressing dismay over the "timid" nature of the report in the face of a tainted illicit drug supply that has killed more than 10,000 people since 2016.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

As she pointed out in the legislature earlier in the day, many of the major themes in the report simply reiterate recommendations that have been made repeatedly in the six years since a public health emergency was declared in B.C.

"The recommendations are not particularly surprising or even particularly profound. They reflect what has been called for by the coroners' death review panels, by health officials, by advocates — although some of these recommendations are not as strong as we've heard before," Furstenau said.

She said the recommendations are a result of "what the committee was able to reach consensus on" and do not fully reflect the testimony that members heard from drug users, families, advocates and experts.

Indeed, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson did not signal any major changes in the province's response to the crisis after the report's release.

Instead, she released a statement saying the report and recommendations "reaffirm the tools our government is using" and "reinforce our government's continued action."

Some of the recommendations in the report include creating regulations governing all addiction treatment and recovery services so they provide evidence-based care that is monitored and evaluated for efficacy, something a death review panel identified as a priority more than four years ago.

It also recommends making sure a prescribed safer supply of drugs is available to drug users everywhere in the province, along with withdrawal-management treatment and drug-checking and overdose prevention services.

There are calls as well for mental health care to be integrated into the primary care system, a review of the Mental Health Act, an increase in funding for treatment, working with police on enforcement and public awareness campaigns about the dangers of drug use.