All-party committee set to start examining B.C.'s toxic drug deaths

The B.C. legislature building in Victoria is seen in January 2022. (CTV)

An all-party committee dedicated to examining the ongoing crisis of record-breaking numbers of deaths from toxic, illicit drugs in B.C. is set to have its first meeting Monday.

The Select Standing Committee on Health will first hear presentations from Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Dr. Nel Wieman, the deputy chief medical officer of the First Nations Health Authority, according to a Twitter post from the legislature.

Premier John Horgan announced the plan to convene the committee in March, after a report was released by the coroner's death review panel examining 6,007 fatalities over a four-year period.

"All of us are shaken. All of us are rattled when we see 6,000 lives extinguished because of a toxic drug supply," Horgan said at the time.

It found that a poisoned supply is a factor, but so too is the current drug policy framework of prohibition, which it says forces substance users to buy their supply from an unregulated market. A "rapid expansion" of access to a safe supply of drugs was a key recommendation.

But Horgan said targeting those who sell drugs is also something he thinks the province needs to prioritize.

"It will take more than just safe supply. It will take more than harm reduction. It will take more than treatment. It will take enforcement so that we can eliminate the scourge of people in our society that profit off of putting people in boxes," he said while speaking to the legislature in March.

The death review panel did not look at data collected over the entirety of 2021, during which 2,232 people died, making it the deadliest year on record since the province declared a public health emergency in 2016.

B.C. Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau welcomed the move when it was announced, although she said it was overdue.

"The B.C. Green Caucus first wrote to the Premier to request this committee in May of 2021. Tragically, the number of deaths from the illicit drug supply has continued to break records," she said.

“I am pleased that the all-party work can now begin. This is an opportunity for genuine collaboration between all parties in order to separate British Columbians from the toxic illicit drug supply and ultimately stop preventable deaths.”

The BC Coroners Service has repeatedly said illicit drug toxicity is the leading cause of unnatural death in the province "accounting for more deaths than homicides, suicides, motor vehicle incidents, drownings and fire-related deaths combined."