BC Legislature
(File photo)

The BC government has announced a $45 million investment into harm reduction services and has applied for a federal exemption from Health Canada to decriminalize personal possession of drugs in BC.

On Wednesday, April 14th, BC announced the new investment, which will be distributed over the next three years and will extend and enhance the funding announced last August.

The investment will implement new overdose prevention services, including safe consumption sites, as well as hire new registered nurses who can prescribe addictions treatment, and social workers and peer support workers, for interdisciplinary outreach teams.

Officials for the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions and Health Canada have been working on an agreement to apply for a provincewide exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The agreement will determine and define simple possession, allowable drug amounts, and ensure the readiness of law enforcement, health and social services to support decriminalization.

It’s unclear when the decision to decriminalize personal drug possession will be made.

Portugal, Switzerland, and the Netherlands are just some of the countries that have decriminalized drug use and the possession for personal use in the past.

Since Portugal decriminalized drugs and implemented a health-centered perspective on drug-use in 2001, HIV and drug-related deaths have decreased.

“Through provincewide decriminalization, we can reduce the fear and shame that keep people silent about their drug use, and support people to reach out for help, life-saving support and treatment,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.

The Province will continue to allocate funds to each of BC’s health authorities.

Five-Year Anniversary of State of Emergency

Today, flags are flying at half-mast around the province in recognition of the five-year anniversary of BC’s public health emergency for substance-related harms.

BC Coroners Service has reported that illicit drugs have claimed the lives of at least 7,072 British Columbians since the declaration.

In 2020, a record high 1,724 lives were lost in BC and an additional 329 deaths took place in the first two months of 2021.

The communities experiencing the highest number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2021 are Vancouver, Surrey, and Victoria.

This past February, the province recorded an average of 5.5 deaths per day.

The total overall death rate in 2021 is 38 deaths per 100,000 individuals.

No deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.

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