B.C.'s chief coroner calling on federal leaders to focus on illicit drug death crisis

B.C's chief coroner is calling for 'bold ideas' to end Canada's toxic illicit drug crisis. Lisa Lapointe wants federal candidates to spell out what they would do to stop unnecessary deaths due to fentanyl and other drugs. Lapointe sat down for an exclusive interview with our Richard Zussman.

As voters start to turn to who they are going to support for the upcoming federal election, B.C.’s chief coroner is hoping the ongoing overdose crisis weighs into the minds of voters.

In a wide-ranging interview for Focus BC, Lisa Lapointe said she would like to see the federal party leaders focus on plans to cut down on illicit drug deaths and to provide wide-ranging support for illicit drug users.

“I wish the federal leaders would come to B.C. and speak to some of the people I have spoken to,” Lapointe said.

“These are really people who are dying. Our country is losing people across the country. We don’t know what we have lost in terms of what these people would have done for our country. This is a national issue.”

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The full interview will air on Focus BC on BC1.

In the NDP platform, the party promises to declare a federal public health emergency and commit to working with all levels of government, health experts and Canadians to end the criminalization and stigma of drug addiction.

The party promises to work with the provinces and health professionals to create a safe supply of medically regulated alternatives to toxic street drugs, support overdose prevention sites and expand access to treatment on demand for people struggling with addiction.

They will also launch an investigation into the role drug companies may have played in fueling the opioid crisis, and seek meaningful financial compensation from them for the public costs of this crisis.

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The Liberals are promising to invest $25 million for public education to reduce the stigma associated with problematic substance use and invest $500 million to support the provinces and territories in providing access to a full range of evidence-based treatment, recognizing that successful treatment is not determined by long-term abstinence.

The Liberal platform also pledges to support provinces and territories in creating standards for substance use treatment programs so that Canadians can access quality and evidence-based support when they need it most.

The party also promises to support the many lower-risk and first-time offenders by reforming the Criminal Code to repeal relevant mandatory minimum penalties and requiring police and Crown prosecutors to consider diverting individuals out of the criminal justice system.

“Saying you are going to put money to beds is an easy thing to say, but what does it really mean. Is that what people are looking for? Where? How much? It is an issue that is complex and needs meaningful and thoughtful solutions,” Lapointe said.

“We have jails, we have punishment. What we don’t have is a tool to support people to wellness. It is heartbreaking there is not more attention. There is some but not nearly enough considering how many people are dying and how many people are impacted.”

The overdose crisis was not chosen as one of the main topics for the English language debate on Thursday.

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The Conservatives have had a substantial shift in policy over the past decade. The party is now in support of supervised injection sites, after opposing them while Stephen Harper was Prime Minister.

In the party’s platform, the Conservatives promise to invest $325 million over the next three years to create 1,000 residential drug treatment beds and build 50 recovery community centres across the country.

The Conservatives are promising to support innovative approaches to address the crises of mental health challenges and addiction.

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This would include land-based treatment programs developed and managed by Indigenous communities as part of a plan to enhance the delivery of culturally appropriate addictions treatment and prevention services in First Nations communities with high needs.

The platform also mentions a partnership with the provinces to ensure that Naloxone kits are available for free across Canada.

“What we would be looking at is a suite of services. Absolutely supervised injection sites like we have in B.C., drug check-in services, safe supply, absolutely needs to be supplied, decimalization,” Lapointe said.

“A medical model and really changing how we look at problematic substance use. We do not have a system.”

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