Decriminalizing hard drugs ‘unpopular’ with British Columbians, say focus groups

While Health Canada claimed accessible pharmaceutical opioids would reduce fatal overdoses, fentanyl fatalities have increased year-over-year since the onset of the COVID pandemic.

Decriminalizing hard drugs ‘unpopular’ with British Columbians, say focus groups
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According to internal polling by the British Columbia government, residents are rejecting relaxed illicit drug policies amid record drug overdoses on the west coast.

Focus groups in Metro Vancouver and the B.C. interior reacted "negatively" overall to the province's January 31 decriminalization of 'hard drugs.'

At the time, Health Canada granted B.C. a subsection 56(1) exemption for three years under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize people who possessed up to 2.5 grams of heroin, crack, cocaine, fentanyl, MDMA and meth.

According to Blacklock's Reporter, the experimental decriminalization — the first cabinet order of its kind since criminalizing cocaine and opium in 1911 — led to more drug addiction, said federal focus groups.

"Participants were mostly negative in their reaction to this decision and believed the federal government should instead be focused on discouraging opioid use, including implementing greater penalties for those using and distributing these substances," read a Privy Council report, Continuous Qualitative Data Collection Of Canadians' Views.

Several groups contend the 2.5 gram limit is "far too high" for substances like fentanyl and would "ultimately result in the increased usage […] among younger adults," the report noted.

While Health Canada claimed accessible pharmaceutical opioids would reduce fatal overdoses, fentanyl fatalities have increased year-over-year since the onset of the COVID pandemic.

Since the COVID pandemic, B.C. has suffered more overdose fatalities than ever before — exceeding combined deaths from homicides, suicides, accidents and natural diseases in recent years.

In July 2020, overdose deaths reached 175, marking five consecutive months of increasing incidences. The province confirmed 203 COVID-19 deaths during the same period.

A total of 4,605 people died from accidental poisonings in 2020; the following year, the number grew to 6,310.

While the B.C. Coroners Service (BCCS) recorded only 2,272 overdose fatalities in 2022, that is still up tenfold from 2001 — when 272 fatal overdoses occurred.

The BCCS reported 184 deaths in June by illicit drugs, according to the latest monthly data on the ongoing overdose crisis — over 1,200 this year alone. In a year-over-year comparison, the death toll jumped 17% from last June and 2% higher than in May.

Since April 2016, drug overdoses have killed 12,264 people in B.C. and over 32,000 people nationwide. Health Canada blamed fentanyl for the overwhelming majority (76%) of those deaths. 

Fentanyl, or one of its substitutes, caused 90% of illicit drug deaths recorded in June, according to provincial data. Of the fatal overdoses reported this year, B.C. linked 85% of deaths to fentanyl.

According to Blacklock's Reporter, an earlier June 28, 2022, report for the Privy Council warned that Canadians nationwide opposed decriminalization. 

"A large number were more opposed to the idea," wrote researchers. "Many were concerned about drug users taking advantage of this initiative."

With fatal overdoses now the leading cause of death for British Columbians under 59, statistics show that teenage users are becoming increasingly addicted to hydromorphone — a substitute product to fentanyl with devastating consequences.

At 13, Port Coquitlam teen Madison became addicted to hydromorphone, which progressed to fentanyl — nearly costing her life on several occasions.

Dozens of addiction experts attributed hydromorphone, the drug distributed by 'safer supply' instead of fentanyl, as not sufficiently potent to get fentanyl users high.

They widely claim that users only consume enough hydromorphone to pass urine and traffic tests, and then youth, in particular, purchase 'hard drugs' on the black market at a 70% to 95% discount in areas with "safer supply."

After two years of drug abuse, Madison is now in recovery and driven to inform Canadians that addiction is rampant among teens in Port Coquitlam, reported The Bureau.

Madison, and many like her, attribute Canada's "safer supply" and harm-reduction programs as the cause of their grievances. B.C. became the first province in Canada to implement a "safer supply" program in 2021.

The Commons last May 29 upheld the policy by a 209 to 113 vote, with only Conservative MPs calling for cabinet to "immediately reverse its deadly policies and redirect all funds from the taxpayer-funded hard drug programs to addiction treatment and recovery."

B.C.'s October 2021 submission to Health Canada considered "illicit drug poisoning the leading cause of death amongst British Columbians aged 19 to 39."

When asked about opioid addiction, British Columbians — the only Canadians to be surveyed — called it a significant worry contributing to disorder in their province, reported Blacklock's Reporter

"All believed this to be a significant issue, and many were of the view that rising rates of addiction had contributed to increased crime in their communities," said Canadians' Views.

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