Advocates slam B.C. government ads meant to fight overdose crisis

Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs says ads ignore ‘systemic’ factors

An advocacy group is calling out the B.C. government for a string of advertisements meant to ease the stigma around drug use, saying the ads ignore key factors that have contributed to the overdose crisis.

In January, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction launched a series of ads on TV, radio and online that depict all kinds of people, from lawyers to teachers to business people, with the slogan, “People who take drugs are real people.”

The Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs said in a news release last week the ads ignore the structural and systemic factors that play into overdose deaths.

“The greatest danger of MMHA’s anti-stigma campaign is it ignores the reality all of us live through. It ignores criminalization, discrimination, and the tainted drug supply killing so many people. No, we’re not the problem,” the group said.

“We don’t need fixing, treatment, or a doctor’s diagnosis to tell us that the drug market is poisoned and our government isn’t doing enough.”

READ MORE: 130 suspected overdose calls in 1 day, all lives saved, B.C. paramedics say

READ MORE: B.C. doctors told not to limit opioids or refuse care of chronic pain patients

The group has in turn released its own “remixes” of the ads, taking special aim at the federal government to decriminalize the possession of drugs and provide a safe supply.

“People who use drugs are stigmatized by posters that say they need help,” reads one. “Get a real solution. Decriminalize drug use.”

Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs releases ‘remix’ of provincial anti-stigma overdose campaign ads. (Facebook)

The mental health ministry said in an email that the campaign is not meant to address all of the complexities of the overdose crisis, nor is it meant to focus on decriminalization.

“The aim of the campaign is to knock down the walls of silence that keep people from having courageous conversations about drug use by acknowledging that people who use drugs are real people,” it said.

READ MORE: Moms of those killed by illicit opioids take to B.C. Legislature in call for action

The ministry said the NDP government agrees with sentiments from police and health officials that “we can’t arrest our way out of this crisis.”

Nearly 750 people died of an illicit drug overdose in B.C. during the first six months of 2018, compared to 816 in the same time period last year. Fentanyl continues to be the top drug found through toxicology reports, at 75 per cent.


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