The decision to decriminalize 2.5 grams of hard drugs for personal use – and not until next January, for some reason – is an insufficient response to the epidemic of toxic drug deaths and overdoses that is still killing more people in B.C. than COVID-19.
What B.C. needs is prescribed safer supply, across the whole province.
Last year, Langley saw 56 deaths from toxic drugs, more than one a week. Addicts and casual users of illicit drugs are buying substances that are so heavily cut with fentanyl, carfentanil, and benzodiazapam that every hit is a potential killer.
A decade ago, Langley’s overdose and toxic drug death rate was a fifth what it was by 2021, and it doesn’t look like 2022 will be any better.
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The only solution to this problem is for the government to step in and provide a regulated, tested safe supply for addicts. In combination with safer consumption sites, drug purity testing, decriminalization, and initiatives such as the Assertive Community Treatment team recently announced for Langley, we might actually be able to cut the toll of deaths.
The decriminalization measures already announced show that the government realizes there is a problem and is willing to take action, but the practical value will be limited.
Local and regional police don’t habitually target drug users for small amounts of personal possession. They’re rightly focused on the mid- to high-level dealers murdering one another on our streets, the ones profiting from the drug trade, not the ones being victimized by it.
At every level, from police to government, we say again and again that the drug crisis is a health crisis, not a criminal matter. But until the government really internalizes that idea and moves past the old war on drugs mentality, we aren’t going to make progress on ending the lethal epidemic.