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47 people lost to unregulated drug supply crisis in Langley last year

2023 was the worst year for fatal drug poisonings in B.C. history
Signs were provided to people attending the awareness walk for International Overdose Awareness Day in Langley on Aug. 31, 2023. (Langley Advance Times files)

Langley recorded its second highest year of drug poisoning deaths in 2023, with 47 people lost to the unregulated drug supply crisis.

At a rate of just over 3.6 deaths per month, Langley passed the number of deaths it saw in 2022 – 44 deaths.

The worst year in Langley’s history of unregulated drug deaths was 58 deaths in 2021.

B.C. Coroner’s Service latest report shows that the crisis claimed the lives of 2,511 people last year, a record-breaking number in the last decade of data for the province.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe used her last public appearance to call for “courageous” changes in B.C.’s response to the unregulated drug crisis.

“We can take measures to save lives, or we can continue to count the dead,” Lapointe said in lamenting the lack of a broader plan and data around which to base such a plan. “We can’t become complacent with drug toxicity as the leading cause of death for a significant portion of our population.”

Premier David Eby announced the 180 beds, which 97 of those are already open in several communities, in Vancouver on Thursday, Jan. 25. He said the expansion is nearly double B.C.’s 2023 budget commitment to open approximately 100 publicly funded beds throughout the province.

“People need to be able to access treatment and recovery services close to where they live, without worrying about how to pay for it.”

Eby said the reason the government was able to move so quickly to open the first 97 beds was due to a change in funding. The beds were previously privately funded. The remaining 83 beds are set to launch in the summer.

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside said that by expanding access to addiction treatment beds across B.C., it allows for more options for lifesaving care that people need on their recovery journey.

“When people take the courageous step to reach out for help, they need to be met with the right care at the right time, close to home,” Whiteside said.

The announcement came the day after Lapointe gave a stark ultimatum in her update on the 2023 overdose deaths.

“I think there is some fear among politicians to be seen as doing something radical,” she said, when asked why this idea of expanding safe supply continues to face resistance.

“It’s not radical. We have always treated medical health issues with a medical response or a common sense approach… [Our] politicians need to be courageous. They need to push back against the narrative that we are providing drugs,” Lapointe said.

Lapointe’s criticism of government comes not only on her last public appearance, but also just days before the one-year-anniversary of B.C.’s limited decriminalization trial. The trial — which exempts from criminal penalties possession of up to 2.5 grams of certain illegal drugs for personal until Jan. 30, 2026 — started Jan. 31, 2023.

The trial has faced criticism from several corners, including municipalities, who have blamed it for declining public safety. Lapointe pushed back against this claim.

“[There] is no evidence to suggest that the general public is at risk from people, from public drug use,” she said.

Lapointe also disagreed with claims that decriminalization has contributed to the rising death numbers. “Illicit fentanyl is responsible for these deaths,” she said. “The goal of decriminalization didn’t mean that more drugs were available.”

But Lapointe criticized the government for launching decriminalization without the supports in the place.

“The treatment and recovery services are not there,” she said. “There are no standards for treatment and recovery. This is not a B.C. issue. This is common across the country.”

Lapointe said that unless government officials are “are willing to act thoughtfully, carefully, and with courage to provide a safer supply for the tens of thousands of people at risk in our province, we will continue to count the dead, more people will suffer and more families will grieve.”

Experts have estimated that about 225,000 people in B.C. use unregulated drugs, while 100,000 of those have opioid-use disorder.

Lapointe said the current treatment and safer supply models are not able to address the scale of the crisis, and the services are not there. She also questioned the lack of data around treatment beds.

“One million people in our province don’t have access to a family doctor, never mind the focused and specialized expertise needed to address the public health emergency of this magnitude.”

Eby said the province is working on a system to improve the metrics around treatment beds for British Columbians, adding that part of Thursday’s funding announcement was about collecting the data the coroner wants.

READ MORE: 2023 was the worst year for fatal toxic drug poisonings in B.C. history

RELATED: VIDEO: Langley honours more than 300 lost to toxic drug supply on Aug. 31

Kyler Emerson

About the Author: Kyler Emerson

I'm excited to start my journalism career in Langley and meet our community.
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