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BC should follow Oregon




British Columbia is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis, with overdose deaths reaching unprecedented levels and drug misuse continuing to ravage communities across the province. 


This certainly is the case in Kelowna.


I was downtown this weekend meeting some constituents in the middle of the day, and was confronted by two different individuals — on different streets and blocks — in the middle of pedestrian traffic of families and downtown residents — that were completely incapacitated on drugs. 


My heart was broken. Clearly these individuals needed help — needed treatment.


It was just a few weeks ago that I met with a constituent who was concerned about her son.


While in the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), she showed me the list of all of the “safe supply” drugs that he was prescribed.


She then put a photograph of her son in front of me, with him clearly in a drug-induced state of incapacitation and asked me, “Does this look safe to you?”


His mom continued to tell me that as he was kicked out of his group home, while still a minor, he was given a tent and a sleeping bag.


I thought to myself, “Is that the hope that we want to give her son?”


How could we send him onto the streets and simply say, “’best of luck to you’”?


These tragic scenarios underscore the urgent need for a reevaluation of decriminalization, which, despite it’s intentions to reduce harm and promote public health, has fallen short of addressing the complexities of addiction and its societal impacts, and thus – has failed.


And it’s not just here that it is failing.


The situation in Oregon provides a critical lens through which BC can reassess its approach to drug policy.


Oregon, which made headlines for decriminalizing drug possession in a bid to shift the focus from criminalization to treatment, has recently taken steps to reverse this policy. 


The move comes after observing a rise in drug use and related public safety concerns, signalling that the outcomes of decriminalization might not always align with the anticipated benefits of reducing drug misuse and enhancing community health. 


This pivot in policy by Oregon lawmakers serves as a cautionary tale for BC, suggesting that decriminalization alone, without sufficient support, treatment, and enforcement mechanisms, will not effectively mitigate the drug crisis.


The parallels between Oregon's initial decriminalization efforts and BC's current drug policy are striking. 


Both regions embarked on progressive paths with the hope of fostering a more humane and health-centric approach to drug addiction. 


Both are failing.


But Oregon is taking steps to change that, while the BC government is doubling down.


BC still has only 2,200 treatment beds funded in the 2024 NDP budget. To put that number into context, Alberta has over 8,000. That means that treatment in BC is not readily available, or it is very expensive if one chooses to seek private treatment.


If someone asks for treatment today, they are put on a significant waiting list. If they happen to be a minor, that list is even longer. That’s not how addiction works — it doesn’t wait.


BC's strategy should evolve by considering the lessons learned from Oregon's experience. 


This involves stopping the decriminalization policy, ensuring that it is replaced by robust support systems for those struggling with addiction, including increased access to treatment and recovery services. 


Furthermore, the re-evaluation of BC's drug policy must be informed by data, research, and a thorough understanding of the unique social, economic, and health-related factors that contribute to the drug crisis within the province. 


BC stands at a pivotal moment, with the opportunity to redefine its approach to drug policy in light of the challenges and lessons observed in Oregon. We must admit that the decriminalization and current drug policy has failed.


This requires bold leadership, a commitment to public health, and a willingness to adapt policies in response to evolving evidence and community needs.


There are so many lives at stake.


My question to you is this: Is it time to change trajectories in our drug policies?


I love hearing from you and read every email. Email me at Renee.Merrifield.MLA@leg.bc.ca or call my office at 250-712-3620.

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