CUPE BC’s Health Care Presidents Council (HCPC) said today that two moves by the British Columbia government to address the opioid crisis are important steps that will help save lives while reducing the stigma around drug use that often prevents people from seeking the help they need.

On the fifth anniversary of B.C.’s declaring the overdose crisis a public health emergency, the BCNDP government today announced that it will request a federal exemption from Health Canada to decriminalize personal possession of drugs in B.C. The government also announced a new $45-million investment over the next three years to secure recently expanded overdose prevention services for British Columbians at high risk of overdose—an increase from funding announced in August last year.

“Our members know from experience working in this field that the stigma surrounding this issue can be fatal. Shame causes people to hide their drug use to avoid health care, so that they end up using alone at further risk to their lives,” said HCPC Chair Andrew Ledger.

“We have long argued that decriminalization not only reduces fear and shame but makes it easier for people to reach out for the life-saving supports and treatment that our members provide. So we fully support today’s announcement as a critical step in addressing the crisis.”

Decriminalization is an additional tool in B.C.’s accelerated overdose response plan, which also includes harm reduction, prevention, treatment and recovery, while building a system of mental health and substance use care.

Ledger said the additional funding for overdose prevention services is critically needed. Although more than 6,000 deaths have been averted since 2018 because of life-saving interventions, the toxic drug supply has killed more than 7,000 British Columbians since 2016.

For more on the government’s announcement, visit: