With as many as 21 deaths in Northeast B.C. this year linked a growing toxic drug supply, one of the region’s MLA believes now is the time to act.
Peace River North MLA Dan Davies sits on the Select Standing Committee on Health, a group of MLAs from all political stripes, which recently submitted a list of recommendations to the province addressing B.C.’s ongoing issue with toxic drug deaths – a figure that climbed to 1,827 province-wide in the first 10 months of 2022.
“It’s important to recognize that it’s not who you think might be dying,” said Davies.
“A lot of people have this pre-conceived notion of Downtown Eastside [Vancouver]… Vancouver Hastings. Well, no, it’s not. It’s young workers, predominantly young men that are working in the resource sector. I use the word very loosely, recreationally, using harder drugs, but they’re tainted.”
Early additives like fentanyl and carfentanyl are now being replaced by benzodiazepines, also known on the street as "benzos."
And, therein lies another problem.
“We know it doesn’t take much fentanyl, even benzos. Naloxone kits don’t work on benzos. They were made to combat fentanyl,” added Davies.
“Absolutely, there is a solution. We need to be focusing on the big picture, focusing on recovery. There are no detox services up here. When someone goes in and says, I need help, then they need help now, not ,we can get you on a bus to Prince George in 10 days. It’s too late then.
"So, we need to make sure we’re getting those much-needed treatment services.”
Davies emphasizes that includes recovery beds, locally and in the region, which aren’t available right now.
“The other piece of this is prevention,” Davies continued. “The last thing we want to be doing Is normalizing this because that’s a challenge all-in-itself. We need to make sure we’re educating.”
Davies pointed out there is no safe supply of drugs.
“Safer supply? We can recognize that, but that is only one of four pillars in the process. One of the lines we heard over and over [during presentations to the committee] was – there is no recovery for a dead person.”
The four pillars approach is outlined as prevention, harm reduction, enforcement, and treatment.
Davies argues all four components need to take place for it to work.
“We get that there are people entrenched in their addictions who do need a safer supply but that does not work when that is all alone. We need to make sure we have that recovery piece at the end. We need to make sure we’re doing the prevention, preventing people from going down this path.”
“There’s a whole bunch of stuff that needs to happen that, quite frankly, isn’t happening.”
In its latest report, the B.C. Coroners Service said the northeast region accounts for 15% of the 143 overdose deaths reported across Northern B.C. so far in 2022.
According to the government branch, the Northern Health region also has the highest rate of overdose deaths, at 56 deaths per 100,000 people.
In the northeast, that rate drops to 34.4 deaths per 100,000.
At least six deaths in the Peace River North between January and August were attributed to the toxic drug supply, it said.
In northern B.C., people are dying from a drug overdose most often in private homes (61%), or other residences such as hotels, rooming houses, shelters, or other supportive housing (20.6%) according to the data released Nov. 30.
-with files from Matt Preprost