Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s statement on 2021 poisoned drug deaths
Vancouver, BC; February 9, 2022 — Mayor Kennedy Stewart has released the following statement on today’s B.C. Coroners Service report showing 2021 as the deadliest year yet from poisoned drugs in the province:
“Today the B.C. Coroners Service confirmed what we already know: that a catastrophic failure of health policy and inaction by senior governments has resulted in the unnecessary deaths of another 2,224 brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children, friends, loved ones and neighbours across our province in 2021.
The time for more talk has long since passed. If this was a poisoned food crisis, or a poisoned medicine crisis, we would not be here year after year. The fact that we have yet to see a coordinated, senior-government-led, all-agency approach is as outrageous as it is tragic.
Neither senior level of government has even taken the first step of setting overdose death reduction targets even though we are six year into this official public health emergency.
Our neighbours deserve better.
Drug overdose deaths are occurring with alarming frequency in communities right across B.C. and Canada. Mayors are working flat out to respond to the crisis, but increasingly it feels cities are working alone. These are federal and provincial responsibilities which they need to embrace and act upon.
As Mayor, I have championed a three-pronged approach to make up the lack of action by senior governments.
- Investing millions annually in harm reduction and treatment pathways, including funding firefighters, other frontline city staff, non-profits and community peer workers;
- Applying in June 2021 to the federal Minister of Health for a city-based decriminalization exemption for the possession of small quantities of drugs so as to move away from a criminal justice approach, and towards a health-centred one to respond to this issue. The application has been officially accepted, but as of yet there has been no reply;
- Assisting Vancouver Coastal Health and non-profits to do everything we can within our authority to expand access to safer supply so that people can go to doctors and not drug dealers for help.
Today I call on both the federal and provincial governments to take ownership of this issue, stop offloading their responsibility to municipalities, immediately set metrics and targets to reduce deaths from poisoned drugs, and produce a public timeline and roadmap to show how they are going to meet these targets.
We need a clear plan of action to save lives, otherwise these unacceptable deaths will continue.