With drug overdose deaths dramatically increasing across Canada, Gord Johns has taken the bull by the horns in efforts to have something done to deal with the growing crisis.
Johns, the MP for Courtenay-Alberni and the NDP Critic for Mental Health and Addictions, visited the Cowichan Valley on March 10 on his first stop in a national tour to gather support for the private members bill, Bill C-216, that he recently introduced in Parliament.
The bill calls for the decriminalization of the simple possession of drugs, the expungement of criminal records for those convicted of simple possession and the development and implementation of a national health-based strategy to manage the risk of overdose from poisoned substances through access to a regulated safer supply of drugs, as well as the expansion of trauma-based treatment programs for drug users.
“We have to deal with this issue as it’s costing more and more lives, including the lives of loved ones,” Johns said as he and Alistair MacGregor, MP for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, met with business owners along the Trans-Canada Highway corridor to discuss the problems dealing with drug issues in the area.
“I lost a friend who was a professional person to a drug overdose just last week, so this issue has expanded across the whole of our society. This should be treated as a health issue and I hope the government does the right thing, but it remains a criminal issue right now in Canada. We’re under the gun and time is of the essence so Parliament needs to work more rapidly to deal with this growing crisis as we’re losing lives every day.”
Johns said that during the past six years, almost 25,000 Canadians have died of apparent opioid overdoes due to a toxic drug supply.
He said the supply of illicit drugs in Canada has become so toxic — so poisoned with fentanyl — that there’s little hope to address the escalating death toll without providing access to a safe, medically regulated drug supply.
Johns also said the availability of trauma-based treatment for substance abuse, along with other recovery services, doesn’t meet the need in Canada.
At least 207 British Columbians were lost to toxic illicit drugs in January, 2022, according to preliminary data released by the BC Coroners Service on March 11.
January is the fourth consecutive month in which more than 200 lives were lost to the illicit drug supply in B.C.
The 207 deaths is the third highest recorded in a calendar month, an average of about 6.7 deaths per day.
“Canada will never adequately address the ongoing toxic overdose crisis if it continues to stigmatize users and those who are addicted to substances,” Johns said.
“It’s time to treat substance use and the toxic drug supply as a health issue, not a criminal justice one.”
Will Arnold, owner of Experience Cycle located in the highway corridor, gave a tour of the area to Johns and MacGregor pointing out some of the difficulties local businesses have been having with drug users in the neighbourhood.
He said he welcomes any initiatives to help deal with the drug crisis.
“I think a lot more has to be done in a number of areas,” Arnold said.
“The wait lists for drug therapy and treatments are way too long and that’s just one of the things that must be dealt with.”