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Vancouver reiterates calls for federal leaders to create safe drug supply

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart reiterated his call for the federal government to declare a federal health emergency around the opioid crisis.

 Opioid epidemic / Shutterstock Opioid epidemic / Shutterstock

Sparwood Mayor David Wilks told B.C.’s minister of mental health and addictions Sept. 23 that recovering addicts need to speak to youth and federal politicians to press the message of dealing with the opioid crisis.

“Recovering addicts – those are the ones who make a difference in front of committees,” Wilks told Judy Darcy. “That’s where you have the most effect on politicians.”

He also suggested getting recovering addicts into high schools and elementary schools to speak about the pain and horror of addiction.

“These kids are seeing it firsthand,” said Wilks, who noted he has been in recovery 30-plus years. “I’ve been there. I don’t want to go back.”

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart reiterated his call for the federal government to declare a federal health emergency around the opioid crisis – now apparently being called the federal poisoning crisis.

“We need the federal government to jump in and do more,” Stewart said. “My message to the federal leaders is Vancouver is willing to take a risk. We are willing to pilot new things.”

But, said provincial medical health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, three people are dying every day.

“The death toll is coming down,” said Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy. “It’s still too many. Every single day in the province there are parents and partners and friends going to funerals.”

Darcy said multiple programs are now on stream but said more tools are needed to combat the ongoing crisis. And, she said, when people are ready to enter recovery, the province is working on ensuring treatment homes are supervised and that more treatment centres would be coming online.

“The important thing is that when people are ready to walk that path, they do not walk it alone.”

Stewart said he has spoken with Prime Minister Trudeau, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and members of the Conservative Party caucus to build approval for access to a safe drug supply. Such pharmacy-provided drugs would move opioid users away from street opiates and drugs contaminated with fentanyl, carfentanyl and other analogues.

Stewart took the lectern after Henry, who also reiterated her call for a safe drug supply.

Stewart said the effects of the overdose crisis move beyond just those ingesting drugs. It’s a cycle of despair and grief that impacts huge swathes of the community.

Included there are first responders. Stewart said such workers repeatedly reviving the same people only to have them eventually die has an emotional toll on those city employees.

Some mayors, though, said more enforcement is needed as public sympathy begins to evaporate.

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said crime is flowing from Vancouver to Nanaimo.

“We need help in the worst way,” the former NDP MLA said. “The reservoir of public sympathy is evaporating because of the level of crime flowing from addiction.”

His words echoed those of Terrace Mayor Carol Leclerc and other mayors who said her community increases in crime and increasing numbers of needles in their towns are eroding sympathy and putting a strain on budgets.