In 2015, Vancouver mom Deb Bailey spent Christmas Eve in the morgue.

It’s where she identified the body of her 21-year-old daughter, Ola, who had left home to go holiday shopping just two days earlier.

“There she was, laying there in the clothes she had left in, looking like she was sleeping — and you’re shattered, really,” Bailey recalled.

Ola is among the more than 7,000 British Columbians who have died from illicit drugs during B.C.’s overdose crisis, which was declared a public health emergency in 2016.

Their lives are being remembered for International Overdose Awareness Day on Tuesday. The annual campaign, which originated in Australia in 2001, aims to break the stigma surrounding drugs and addiction while raising awareness about overdose prevention and drug policy.

In Vancouver, ceremonies will include a memorial march through the city’s Downtown Eastside. Organizers will distribute lab-tested drugs to registered users in the community.

Vancouver city Coun. Jean Swanson hands out free drugs including meth, heroin and cocaine to people outside the Vancouver Police Department offices in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood on July 14, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC) 159 more deaths in June

The province on Tuesday confirmed that more than 1,000 people died of an illicit drug overdose between January and June, the highest rate ever recorded in the first six months of a calendar year. 

It said at least 159 people died in June, bringing the annual toll so far to 1,011.

The B.C. Coroners Service said there was a greater number of cases with extreme fentanyl concentrations between April and June. A statement said 14 per cent of drug samples tested in those months met the threshold, compared to eight per cent in 2019.

Carfentanil, a more potent analogue of fentanyl, has been detected in 95 deaths in 2021, which is already higher than the 65 deaths in which the drug was identified last year.

May was the 16th straight month in which B.C. saw more than 100 deaths due to drug toxicity.

“We know what would stop the deaths,” said Bailey, who is also a member of the advocacy group Moms Stop the Harm.

“We have a toxic drug supply and we need to look at all the avenues we can find to keep people alive — and that would include providing people with a safe supply of drugs that are not going to kill them.”

Calls for safer supply

Advocates have long been calling for access to a safer drug supply for users in B.C. as more and more toxic drugs flood the streets. Last year was the deadliest on record, with more than 1,700 people fatally overdosing.

“I don’t want to see more people die needlessly,” said Trey Helten, speaking from the Overdose Prevention Society in Vancouver.

He’s the manager of the supervised consumption site, where users can also have their drugs tested by a spectrometer.

He said fentanyl has contaminated just about every drug on the street, while many people are often fooled into consuming an array of other harmful chemicals.

“Sometimes people will ‘bunk’ people on the street. They’ll sell drywall dust or cement dust as fentanyl, and people will unknowingly inject that into their bodies,” he said.

A man waits to have a sample of drugs tested by Vancouver Coast Health workers at the Overdose Prevention Society in Vancouver. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

He went on: “We need lots of different options for lots of different people, and safe supply is one of them.”

In July, the province announced a prescribed safer supply policy, which would offer users substitutes to poisoned street drugs in an effort to reduce overdose deaths. The program is rolling out in phases, with provincial health authorities currently developing implementation plans.

Advocates say urgency needed

But with deaths mounting, advocates like Bailey say time is of the essence.

July 2021 marked the highest ever number of overdoses recorded in a single month. Paramedics responded to 3,606 overdose calls across the province, according to B.C. Emergency Health Services.

Member of the group Moms Stop the Harm walk down Hastings Street in Vancouver to mark the fifth anniversary of B.C’s overdose crisis on April 13, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Bailey said the opioid crisis should be treated with the same level of urgency as the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What did we do for the COVID crisis? We listened to our experts, our medical experts and our scientists, and we pretty much did what they said. And we are saying, ‘Why can’t you do the same with this epidemic?'” she said.

That’s why she says safer supply needs to happen now.

“It’s great to talk about treatment … but you can’t do treatment if you’re dead,” she said.

Source From CBC News

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