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Analysis

Numbers Show BC’s Response to Drug Poisoning Crisis is ‘Fatally Inadequate’, Experts Say

Ministry of Health numbers at odds with talking points in government press releases

The BC government recently posted an update on responses to the drug-poisoning crisis that claims the lives of six British Columbians a day.

The update entails some of the provinces “escalated drug-poisoning response actions,” which included “new beds for addictions and recovery care,” bringing the total number of treatment and recovery beds available in the province to 3,277.

However, a separate government update from June 2022, stated the number of beds was 3,272 – an increase of 5 additional beds.

“Government has been adding services and supports in an unprecedented way, with over 430 adult and youth substance use beds opened since 2017,” a Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions spokesperson said in a statement to PressProgress.

The ministry attributed the fluctuating numbers in their press releases to “changes in contracts, changes at the facility like renovations or unforeseen circumstances.”

“Information regarding the number of HA funded beds is collected 4 times a year via the Ministry of Health Bed Survey (March, June, September, and December). The survey is a snapshot in time, and changes are ongoing.”

BC Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction

 

However, BC’s 2023 Budget included an investment of $586 million in support “with a focus on expanding treatment beds.”

The budget will “focus on expansion of treatment and recovery beds, and the development of new recovery communities to support long-term recovery.”

But drug policy experts say that while officials applaud each incremental gain, the reality for people who use drugs would mean a marginal difference – if any.

“That’s a laughable statistic,” Nicole Luongo, Systems Change Coordinator with the Canadian Centre for Drug Policy BC told PressProgress. “I would love to know, when they say investments, where those dollars are actually going,”

“Treatment beds are (also) not a proportionate or appropriate response to the unregulated drug crisis, and the government continues to conflate the issues of unregulated drug toxicity and addiction.”

Luongo says that while more treatment is needed, the government is not currently evaluating the treatment available.

“I am not suggesting that we don’t need more addiction treatment. However, in addition to actually failing to provide that, what the government at the provincial and federal level have consistently ignored is the quality of services being offered,” Luongo said.

“There’s no quality control and oversight, which parallels the lack of quality control and oversight in the unregulated drug supply chain.”

Meanwhile, BC’s Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions claims they are expanding services across the continuum of care.

“It’s important to note that bed-based treatment only represent a small part of a much broader continuum of care when it comes to treatment options for people living with addictions,” a ministry spokesperson told PressProgress.

“Beds are typically most appropriate for people who require a higher intensity of services and supports to address complex or acute mental health or substance use problems. Not reflected in the bed count are other services the government has been expanding.”

Luongo says that many of the government’s interventions into the drug poisoning crisis have been “woefully and fatally inadequate.”

“It is profoundly disingenuous for the government to continue conflating drug use with addiction,” Luongo said.

“And that, I think, functions as a bit of an ideological shield, where when they are criticized for their failure to implement adequate pathways to safe supply, and for their very incremental, now, virtually non existent decriminalization pilot— it benefits them to have the public assume that all of the folks being harmed by these policies and by the unregulated drug crisis are ‘addicted’, in part because there’s still so much stigma and kind of hostility directed towards drug users.”

While the government provides updates on their investments and efforts, the reality of the toxic drug supply remains largely unaddressed.

“The province commissioned an ethical review of safe supply in 2021, that determined unequivocally that it was an ethical imperative to separate people from the toxic drug supply. So they again, are just kind of kicking the can down the road.”

In August, there were 174 deaths due to the unregulated drug supply in BC.

 

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Rumneek Johal
Reporter
Rumneek Johal is PressProgress' BC Reporter. Her reporting focuses on systemic inequality, workers and communities, as well as racism and far-right extremism.

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