The opioid ‘public health crisis‘ is spreading across the country touching almost every province, with B.C. seeing the most dramatic rise in users, and causing the province to implement new measures to battle the deadly drugs.
In an exclusive interview, Global News spoke with Premier Christy Clark about the opioid crisis in B.C. to address some of the critics who believe the government isn’t doing enough to combat the problem, and is failing to live up to a campaign promise of 500 substance abuse beds.
In October, the BC Coroners Service broke down the numbers, spanning the period of Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, 2016, with 555 deaths from illicit drug overdoses, compared to 508 for the entire year in 2015.
One critic, Michelle Jansen, said Clark has “blood on her hands” after the premier failed to keep her promise of extra beds. Jansen’s 16-year-old son Brandon, who was addicted to fentanyl, died from the drug in a private facility in March.
Jansen said she spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to fight his addiction, but it wasn’t enough.
The Jansen family has been hit hard by the deadly drug twice. Her younger son’s girlfriend, 16-year-old Gwynn Staddon, overdosed on fentanyl and was found dead in a Starbucks washroom in Port Moody last month.
Staddon had been on a wait-list to get into rehab.
Clark empathizes with Jansen and admits her government couldn’t move fast enough to save her child.
“I’m a mother. I’ve got one child and I can only imagine if I had lost him to drugs… how angry I would be and how I would want to find a way to get somebody to address my hurt, my loss, my anger and that’s what I heard from her,” Clark said.
“And you know, we couldn’t move fast enough to save her child but I think we can move fast enough to save a lot more children.”
Clark sees one of the worst aspects to come out of this type of discussion about kids and drug addiction is the blame.
“A mother talks about having lost a child and the response is, ‘well maybe you should have been a better mother’. This can happen to any family, any child, any sister, any brother, any mother, any father and we all need to recognize it’s not the responsibility of just the addicted person to not ever do drugs again. It’s a simple answer and it’s not a believable one… It’s the responsibility of all of us to open our arms and support the people who need our help when they need it, so they don’t lose their lives.
Hitting the goal on numbers of rehabilitation beds
Regarding the lack of substance abuse beds, Clark said they will be fulfilling their promise of a total of 500.
According to the NDP, Clark’s government has only come up with 220 extra rehab beds, meaning they need to add 280 beds by 2017 to meet their promise.
Clark said her government will have 420 beds up and running by early 2017 and hit the goal of 500 “sometime later in 2017.”
“We have to keep that commitment for beds for sure but we have to close the gap that happens after the treatment… We have to make it easier for parents or those addicted, to find the help quickly and then once they find it, to be supported after they’ve gotten help,” Clark said.
But Clark is quick to point out that the recovery beds are only one part of the solution saying “if there’s no support for them when they leave the bed then they’re just going to cycle through again and again.”
Instead, she said, it’s a combination of stopping pill presses at the border, doling out stronger penalties for the drug traffickers, continuing with public education and providing a long continuum of health services.
“Our porous border makes it easy for these drug dealers to get in and out. Our first defense is going after our traffickers, putting them in jail, stopping their supply and getting this terrible drug off the streets. That’s the first line of defense. The second is supporting people who are addicted. “
Clark said their plan is “to attack this problem like no other province in the country has.”
Fentanyl overdoses have been steadily increasing in B.C. over the past five years. According to the Provincial Health Organization (PHO), the increase in drug overdose deaths for which fentanyl was present went from five per cent in 2012 to approximately 31 per cent in 2015.
“We have a bigger problem than anybody else and we’re already leading in fighting it but it’s going to take money and we’re going to come up with that money,” she said.
New statistics released this month show an increase of more than 40 per cent in the number of street drugs testing positive for fentanyl across the country this year compared to last, and experts are warning there has never been a more dangerous time to be a drug user in Canada.
Global News obtained data from Health Canada that shows fentanyl was found in 2,503 drug samples submitted by Canadian law enforcement agencies so far in 2016, a 43 per cent increase from the 1,749 drug samples submitted in all of 2015.
“2016 is like no other year in Canadian drug history and there’s no turning back,” said Michael Parkinson, a drug strategy specialist with the Waterloo Regional Crime Prevention Council in Ontario.
“It’s probably never been a more dangerous time in Canadian history to be using illicit substances.”
Does Clark think she’s done enough in the fight against the opioid crisis?
“No. I think we’ve got so much more to do. We’re still in the midst of a health emergency… so we’re working furiously hard to catch up and keep up but it isn’t beat yet, we have a lot more to do.”
~ with files from Jon Azpiri, Adam Miller and Andrew Russell