Today I asked Minister Malcolmson what explicit plans her government has to lower deaths from the toxic drug poisoning crisis before the end of the year. Over the 100 days of the House not sitting, close to 600 British Columbians died as a result of the toxic drug crisis. We need the government to act.
I also asked why the groundbreaking medical-grade heroin program at Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver was cancelled last week & what the Minister is doing to bring it back.
The Minister leaned on the need for prescribed safer supply and the use of the healthcare system to do so. She said BC is a leader in North America. She said the College of Pharmacists were the cause of the heroin program cancellation.
BC is 3rd highest in North America for illicit drug toxicity deaths. What we are doing is not working, and the barriers to safe supply are too high. We need a regulated safe supply that is accessible and low-barrier, and we need it now.
Today’s debate makes it clear that the drug poisoning crisis is at the forefront of all parties. Premier Horgan said that “all of us working together is how we come out of this.” We have asked for collaboration many times – it’s time for an all-party committee.
S. Furstenau: It has been fascinating to hear four questions from the official opposition and four responses from the government on this issue. In the last 100 days since we haven’t been sitting, 600 people have died. We know what they have died from. They have died from a poisonous drug supply.
Yet in the four questions we’ve heard and the four responses we’ve heard, we’ve heard about overtures to the federal government for decriminalization, social workers, safe injection sites, other harm reduction methods, new waves of measures. It’s a tragedy.
Nobody has spoken about a regulated safe supply, which is…. What experts, doctors, health care workers and advocates have made clear is that if we want people to stop dying in this province at the rate of six people per day, then the poisonous, illicit drug supply needs to be replaced with a regulated safe supply.
My question is to the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. Will we see steps taken to ensure that it is not a poisonous drug supply that is killing British Columbians every day?
Hon. S. Malcolmson: The previous minister, my friend and predecessor Judy Darcy; the Minister of Health; and the public health officer were already working on safe supply as a way to separate people from the toxic drug supply, because what we’re hearing from people on the ground and from families is that it was toxic drug supply that was killing people.
When the pandemic hit, within two weeks, we were able to implement quickly, through public health orders and through cooperation across all of government, a prescribed safer supply. The uptake in that, in the year and a half since, has been a 425 percent increase in the number of people that are receiving a prescribed safe supply. In July, I stood with Dr. Bonnie Henry, and we announced an expansion of that prescribed safe supply.
Nobody else in Canada is doing this. That people now can be prescribed a fentanyl patch for the purpose of avoiding an overdose is unprecedented. We’re grateful to the front-line nurse practitioners and addictions medicine doctors that helped us design this system and those brave front-line people, particularly in the Downtown Eastside, who have piloted this work. We are continuing to expand it every week with every health authority across the province. We’re determined to do more, and there’s more to do.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Third Party on a supplemental.
S. Furstenau: I appreciate the minister’s response. I think it’s important to note that prescribed safe supply presents an extraordinary barrier for people, particularly those who have had less-than-ideal interactions with the health care system. When we consider, for example, the indications and evidence of systemic racism for Indigenous people in the health care system and the number of Indigenous people dying from the toxic drug supply, we need to be able to go beyond what is existing right now.
In July, Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver started providing safe, medical-grade heroin for patients to take home. It was the first of its kind on this continent. The dozen or so initial patients said it was humanizing. It was humanizing not to have to line up daily for their doses. It lets people take on jobs, spend time with loved ones and take care of their families.
Just last week this program was quietly cancelled. No word from the Minister of Health, the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions or Vancouver health has been received.
When we compare ourselves to the lowest denominator, we are the most progressive in North America. Yet we have the third-highest death rate from the toxic drug supply in North America. This government needs greater ambition if we are to truly save people from this toxic supply, and that starts with transparency and progress and a commitment to maintaining programs that remove the influence of illicit drugs.
My question is to the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. Why was the regulated heroin program cancelled only months after it started, and what is the minister doing to not only get it back up and running but to expand it?
Hon. S. Malcolmson: The work of Crosstown Clinic and multiple other service providers in Vancouver and across British Columbia is saving lives, breaking new ground, working within the framework that federal legislation requires. We are learning lots from them, and we are removing barriers wherever we can.
The Crosstown Clinic home carry program that the member references has not been cancelled, but the 11 people that are receiving that groundbreaking service delivery as another way to separate them from the toxic drug supply have encountered a barrier through the College of Pharmacists that we are working hard right now to resolve.
I spoke just this morning with Dr. Scott MacDonald, the lead on this. The program is not cancelled. Those people are still receiving the treatment that they need, the medication that they need. But the home-carry piece, which had been working well, is now, through the college, a conversation that we are having.
I’d be very happy to update the member on what I learn in coming days. We’re working hard to resolve it.