Despite B.C.’s policy makers being on their summer break, a call for the decriminalization of illicit drugs could be heard loud and clear outside the B.C. Legislature Saturday.
Lining up on the front lawn of the legislature in Victoria, dozens stood holding photos of loved ones who have fatally overdosed – photos of the children, parents and siblings they wish they could have one more day with.
Meanwhile, hundreds of painted patches of fabric, or “flags of hope” flew in the wind on string, each representing a live claimed.
“We are here with members of our group – about 500 strong, from coast to coast – who have come here to Victoria for our rally to ask for decriminalization of the personal possession of illicit substances,” said Petra Schulz, a co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm and organizer of the demonstration.
Moms Stop the Harm is a nation-wide network of Canadian families whose loved ones have died of illicit drug overdoses or who hope for recovery for many across the country struggling with drug use.
Co-founded by Schultz, B.C. mom Leslie McBain and Lorna Thomas, the group advocates for an approach to solve the rising number of overdose deaths that is based on reducing harm, where people who use drugs are treated with respect, compassion and support.
“We hope that showing and sharing the stories of our loved ones will help others in the future and bring about the policy change that we need so that we will not have the numbers of victims that we have at the moment,” Schulz said.
Nearly 4,000 people died of an illicit overdose in Canada last year, with more than 72 per cent of those deaths due to the illegal street version of powerful opioid fentanyl. In B.C., 1,400 people died due to drug overdoses in the same time frame.
From January to April this year, 511 people have died of an overdose in the province, based on the latest data available from BC Coroners Service.
Since the province declared its own health emergency in 2016 – following a devastating increase in the number of overdose deaths caused by the illicit opioid fentanyl – B.C.’s top health officials have recommended prescription heroin and suboxone treatments in order to provide a spectrum of support for recovering drug users.
Jennifer Hedican’s 26-year old son, Ryan, had tried to get clean from drug use several times, but passed away of an opioid overdose in April 2017. Now Hedican has speared a petition asking that the government declare the opioid crisis a national public health emergency, that drugs be decriminalized, and that a safe source of drugs be provided.
“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 and at this point more people have died from drugs than the other three combined,” Hedican 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.”
Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor announced in March that legal changes will soon allow Canadians suffering from opioid use to have access to prescription heroin in addiction clinics, while methadone treatment will be available through health-care practitioners without any need for federal exemption.
However, the federal minister has told Black Press Media legalizing or decriminalizing opioids is off the table.