Today’s national data release on opioid- and stimulant-related harms is another tragic reminder that the toxic drug and overdose crisis is one of the most serious and unprecedented public health threats in Canada’s history. Our hearts go out to all those who have lost loved ones to this crisis.
Tragically, more than 5,360 Canadians died of an overdose from January to September 2022. That is nearly 20 family members, parents, children, friends and community members a day whose lives were cut short from substance use harms. While this data shows a decrease in deaths from January to September 2022 compared to the same period in 2021, the figures are still too high.
We must meet people who use drugs where they are at, by prioritizing a full continuum of supports. This includes harm reduction measures such as supervised consumption sites and safer supply programs, which help to save lives-something our critics refuse to acknowledge. Both services are overseen by health professionals and most programs provide access to other health and social services, including treatment and recovery services for those who are ready.
Since 2017, our government has invested more than $800 million to address the toxic drug and overdose crisis through prevention, harm reduction, enforcement, and treatment efforts. Our actions have made a difference, but people who use drugs continue to face an increasingly toxic illegal drug supply contaminated with synthetic opioids and other substances, including fentanyl and benzodiazepines, as well as challenges in accessing life-saving services and supports due to a lack of availability, an overburdened health system, and fears of stigmatization.
We must do everything we can to ensure that people who use substances in Canada have access to the best possible supports, whenever and wherever they need them. This includes the three-year exemption granted to the province of British Columbia under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) for adults to possess up to 2.5 grams total of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, or MDMA for personal use. This is a significant measure that aims to reduce the stigma around substance use by driving more people away from the criminal justice system and towards supportive and trusted relationships in health and social services.
While people use substances for many reasons and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to preventing or reducing overdose deaths, it’s up to all of us to shape a better future for people who use substances. Together, we can save lives and end this national public health crisis.
The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, P.C., M.P.