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City of Vancouver renews call for safe drug supply to respond to overdose crisis

‘To have a safe supply… would mean that people could live their lives without worry or distrust’
overdose memorial
This memorial was unveiled on the Downtown Eastside in 2017 for people to honour friends and family members who have died from a drug overdose. File photo Dan Toulgoet

Saturday is International Overdose Awareness Day and to mark the grim reminder of the city’s ongoing overdose crisis the City of Vancouver released a new video calling for a regulated supply of safe drugs.

“We are living and breathing trauma every day as we watch our family, friends and neighbours die preventable deaths across every Vancouver neighbourhood, and elsewhere in Canada,” Mayor Kennedy Stewart said in a press release announcing the release of the video. “Urgent action is required on multiple levels to prevent further deaths from drug poisoning, including advocating for a safe supply, working together to dismantle the stigma surrounding drug use that isolates drug users and supporting people in their paths to wellness.”

The video features members of the mayor’s Overdose Emergency Task Force and the Vancouver Community Action Team delivering the city’s newly-adopted Vancouver Safe Supply Statement, which was approved by city council in July along with a number of other recommendations from the task force.

“Essentially we are dealing with a poisoned drug supply,” said Kevin Barlow, CEO of the Metro Vancouver Aboriginal Executive Council. “By establishing a regulated safe supply system, we can overcome this crisis which has taken far too many lives.”

In Vancouver alone, more than 1,100 people have died from an overdose since 2016.

“In the last two years, I lost my brother and my mentor to overdose, and am reminded every day of the many other fallen members I’ve met through my work,” said Melissa Steinhauer, secretary at the Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society. “Every time I see someone that needs my help, I see my brother’s face, and I know I need to carry on his legacy of helping others.

“To have a safe supply for people who need it, like myself, would mean that people could live their lives without worry or distrust, and could be out enjoying life instead of gambling with it.”

The city is not alone in its call for a safe, regulated drug supply. Just last month, Dr. Patricia Daly, Vancouver Coastal Health’s chief medical health officer, in her annual report laid out more than 20 recommendations for the fight against the opioid crisis — she said the single-most urgent is having a regulated, legal supply of drugs. Earlier this year, Vancouver doctors from the health authority, BC Centre on Substance Use and PHS Community Services Society came together to call for the establishment of heroin compassion clubs that would sell medical grade heroin.

And in April, Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial officer of health, called for the immediate decriminalization of people who use drugs in B.C. That stance was echoed in August by the Nurses and Nurse Practitioners of British Columbia and the Harm Reduction Nurses Association.

The city’s flag was at half-mast Saturday in remembrance of the lives lost to the opioid crisis and to “show recognition for the front line workers who continue to work tirelessly as toxicity in the drug supply increases, and continue to address stigma surrounding substance use.”

“We call on health professionals, all levels of governments, and the public to join us in advocating for a safe supply of drugs, to protect and prevent further loss of our loved ones,” Stewart said.