Decriminalizing people who use drugs
The province-wide public health emergency demands that Government does everything it can to connect people to the care they need, including prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery.
Right now, people are dying from taking poisoned street drugs alone.
Decriminalization is one tool in the province’s fight to save lives and end the toxic drug crisis.
B.C. is the first province to receive a three-year exemption from the Federal Government to remove criminal penalties for people who possess small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use.
Decriminalization of people who use drugs helps reduce the fear and shame that keeps people silent and leads so many to hide their drug use and avoid treatment and support. Given the increasingly toxic drug supply – using alone can be fatal. By breaking down these barriers, more people will feel comfortable accessing lifesaving supports.
Decriminalization came into effect on Jan. 31, 2023, and the Province is working with a broad cross-section of partners to make sure police are trained and health authorities are prepared for this change.
To learn more about this exemption, visit gov.bc.ca/decriminalization.
There are a number of drug-checking services throughout the province to help people learn what is detected in the substances they are taking to reduce the risk of drug poisoning and connect them to supportive services.
There are many Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectrometers for drug checking in B.C. in all health authorities across the province, as well as three additional instruments owned by the BC Centre on Substance Use.
More than 100 distributed drug-checking sites have opened around the province: 26 in Fraser Health, 35 in Interior Health, 31 in Island Health, two in Vancouver Coastal Health and 11 in Northern Health. These sites help to improve access to drug checking services for more people in all regions of British Columbia.
In addition, Government has invested in HarmCheck, a cutting-edge enhanced drug-checking technology developed by Vancouver Island University that helps people have even more accurate information about what substances they are taking, further helping to reduce the risk of drug poisoning.
Overdose prevention and supervised consumption services
Toxic drugs are killing people and hurting communities. It can’t go on like this. To save lives and reduce the risk of toxic drug poisonings, B.C. has rapidly expanded access to overdose prevention services, as well as inhalation services, in communities hardest hit by the drug-poisoning crisis.
Overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites save lives, reduce the risk of toxic drug poisonings and connect people to lifesaving supports. Every contact an individual has with these services is an opportunity to connect that person with healthcare, with social services and housing and with treatment options.
The number of OPS sites has significantly increased − from one site in 2016 to 47 as of May 2023, including 17 sites offering inhalation services. There have been millions of visits to overdose prevention services and supervised consumption sites and thousands of overdoses responded to and survived.
Toxic drugs are killing people and hurting communities. The numbers show that men – and in particular men working in the trades – are disproportionately impacted by this crisis. It can’t go on like this.
That’s why Government is taking action to help people in trades to stay safer, which includes the Tailgate Toolkit. The Tailgate Toolkit is a successful harm reduction program piloted by the Vancouver Island Construction Association, so it can reach construction and trades across B.C.
The program teaches people about the risks of using drugs alone, pain management options, drug poisoning prevention, and access to treatment. It also encourages conversations that help reduce the stigma associated with substance use and encourages people to access life-saving supports. Because addiction is a health issue not a criminal justice one.
For more information, visit The Tailgate Toolkit – You Deserve the Right Tools.
Take home naloxone
Demand for Take-Home Naloxone (THN) kits remains high. Since the program started and as of June 2023, nearly 2 million THN kits have been shipped and 153,148 have been reported as used to reverse a drug poisoning. THN kits are available at more than 2,204 locations, including 860 community pharmacies in B.C.
The Lifeguard app is a life-saving tool that allows users to get help fast if an overdose occurs.
The App is activated by the user before they take their dose. After 50 seconds the App will sound an alarm. If the user doesn’t hit a button to stop the alarm, indicating they are fine, the alarm grows louder. After 75 seconds a text-to-voice call will go straight to 9-1-1, alerting emergency medical dispatchers of a potential overdose.
To date, no drug-poisoning deaths have been reported through the app. Lifeguard also now provides drug alerts.