Decriminalization Plan Launched as Drug Overdose Deaths Increase

drug overdoses

The Kootenay-Boundary has set another dubious record.

The provincial coroner reported that 30 residents died last year throughout the region from illegal drug overdoses, making 2022 the deadliest year in the fight against fatalities from toxic street drugs.

Provincial statistics indicated 13 of those deaths happened during the months of June, July and August.

There were 29 fatal drug overdoses in the Kootenay-Boundary in 2021.

The report was released on Tues. That is when the decriminalization plan went into affect across the province.

It prohibits criminal charges against anyone caught with small amounts of illegal drugs.

Any adult caught with 2.5 grams of cocaine (crack or powder), methamphetamine, MDMA (ecstacy), or opioids (including heroin, fentanyl and morphine), will not be arrested.

Provincial and federal officials hope this will reduce the stigma for users and encourage them to seek help.  The plan also includes police steering users to program and treatment options.

The Co-Chair of the Trail Community Action team believes this is a step in the right direction but questions the plan’s potential effectiveness in the city and surrounding communities.

Diana Daghofer said the nearest treatment facility is in Kelowna which creates a series of challenges.

“If they (patients) are lucky enough to get in, they are often sent to Vancouver and then they are released back into the community, they’re released back into Vancouver, or Kelowna, or wherever they were sent, with a bus ticket home,” she explained, noting a lack of supportive housing compounds the problem.

“If that individual was living in the (homeless) shelter before their treatment, they’re probably going back to the shelter, back to the exact same environment where they were struggling with drug use before,” Daghofer added.

The local volunteer also told Bounce News this makes it even more difficult for a vulnerable person returning from treatment with a reduced tolerance level to toxic street level drugs, which could lead to fatal consequences.

“We’re still supporting organized crime by not providing a safe supply,” she stated.

“I think that as far as saving people’s lives, providing a safe supply would have the biggest impact,” according to Daghofer, who pointed to other countries who have taken their plans much further.

“We’ve got good examples from other countries where they’ve made drastic changes, decriminalizing all drugs in Portugal and Switzerland and it’s improved the situation drastically.”

The local advocate hopes the decriminalization plan leads to bolder action in the future.

“Things are not going well and nobody is happy with the current situation,” she said.

“I think the more that people understand about addiction and see the examples of countries that are doing way better than Canada is, the more that our politicians will feel comfortable making the changes that need to happen,” said Daghofer.

She also said local police have not been arresting people caught with small amounts of illiegal drugs for some time.