The BC Nurses Union wants the federal government to decriminalize opioids, saying safe injection sites are not enough. File photo

BC Nurses Union calls for decriminalization of opioids

BCNU president wants the federal government to do more to reduce preventable deaths

The BC Nurses Union is calling for action on the opioid overdose crisis.

BC Nurses Union president Christine Sorensen called on the federal government to decriminalize opioids, saying that despite provincial efforts the death tolls are high.

“BC has some of the most progressive harm reduction programs and policies and has been a leader in promoting supervised injection sites,” she wrote. “Yet the province continues to face one of the worst overdose crises in the country – almost 2,000 British Columbians died of preventable opioid overdose in 2016 and 2017. And in March of this year, we saw overdoses spike to 160, the second highest monthly toll in the province’s history.”

Sorensen is a public health nurse who works in prevention, and said that through her work she’s been exposed to the humanity of people who suffer from addiction.

“Nobody grows up wanting to be addicted to anything, this happens because people have complex health issues and complex personal lives,” she said. “The reason we’ve come out on this is that substance abuse is a health issue, not a criminal or moral one.”

RELATED: 511 overdose deaths in B.C. so far in 2018: Coroner

Decriminalization would help break the stigma that drives many people to hide their actions, or prevent them from seeking help, Sorensen said, noting that 90 percent or those who died in 2017 were at home and alone.

“Supervised injection sites alone don’t help these people,” Sorensen said. “We need to stop treating the most vulnerable members of our society like criminals. We’ve learned from countries like Portugal that when you decriminalize, people feel safe enough to ask for treatment.”

As front line workers, nurses see more overdoses than most, and reports of trauma and anxiety have been reported.

“We’ve seen so many patients we care for die,” she said. “The psychological distress of people dying, of people overdosing repeatedly and not being able to help people in need, it makes you feel helpless.”

Declaring the current crisis a national public health emergency under the Emergencies Act would allow Ottawa to effectively address the issue and reduce preventable deaths, she noted.

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

As an example of the toll the crisis is taking on families and communities, Sorensen pointed to the death of Ryan Hedican of Comox, who died of an opioid overdose last year at age 26. His death prompted his parents, Jennifer and John Hedican, to start a petition in March asking the federal government to decriminalize opioids. Since it began it has gathered nearly 3,000 signatures.

In an interview in June, Jennifer Hedican told Black Press the opioid crisis was getting less attention than other epidemics.

RELATED: Parents grieving teen’s overdose death say it started with opioid prescription

“We need it to be a national public health emergency, like it was for H1N1, SARS and Ebola, which they haven’t done for the opioid epidemic … at this point more people have died from drugs than the other three combined,” she said. “We’re hoping to have as many signatures as the people who have died over the last two and a half years, which would be more than 10,000.”

Sorensen is encouraging the public to sign the petition, which calls for the government to declare the opioid crisis a national public health emergency, that drugs be decriminalized and that a safe source of drugs be provided.

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter
and Instagram

fentanylopioid crisis

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Loaded gun, hundreds of rounds ammunition seized in Victoria

Victoria police focus on Project Burnside Gorge Connect

Saanich police break up Canada Day gathering of nearly 200 youth in Mount Douglas Park

Officers observed underage drinking, public intoxication, lack of physical distancing

UPDATED: Motorcyclist escapes fire uninjured after onlookers sound alarm in Sidney

First ride of the season ends in flames for one motorcyclist

Undercover operation exposes prominent human trafficking problem in Greater Victoria

VicPD’s Operation No More took place in mid-June at a local hotel

Sooke’s homeless reflect on housing situation

Ed MacGregor Park a new temporary home for Sooke’s homeless population

All community COVID-19 outbreaks declared over in B.C.

Abbotsford manufacturer cleared by Dr. Bonnie Henry

Nestle Canada selling bottled water business to local family-owned company

The Pure Life bottled water business is being sold to Ice River Springs

Major B.C. salmon farm tests new containment system to curb sea lice infestations

System “essentially eliminates” contact between wild and farmed fish stocks, says Cermaq

Major B.C. salmon farm tests new containment system to curb sea lice infestations

System “essentially eliminates” contact between wild and farmed fish stocks, says Cermaq

US unemployment falls to 11%, but new shutdowns are underway

President Donald Trump said the jobs report shows the economy is “roaring back”

Ottawa jail inmates argue anti-COVID measures a breach of charter rights

The prisoners allege guards did not wear masks until April 25

Epstein pal arrested, accused of luring girls for sex abuse

Ghislaine Maxwell was in an intimate relationship with Epstein for years

B.C. repairs COVID-19 emergency order for local government

Ombudsperson shut out as his recommendations implemented

No doctor assisted death allowed at Hamlets in Duncan

Faith-based company that owns facility believes in sanctity of life

Most Read