Metro News: Vancouver NDP health critic ‘grossly disappointed’ by federal overdose response

Vancouver Kingsway MP Don Davies says the Liberal budget proposes to spend a fraction of what even the Conservatives did on the national drug strategy despite crisis.

The reduced spending comes at a time when many provinces are struggling to contain an ongoing overdose death crisis.

Davies lives in the province that has been hit hardest.

Having already declared a public health emergency, 914 people died of illicit drug overdoses in British Columbia last year.

At least 21 people have died this month in Vancouver alone, according to the city.

“I was grossly disappointed and frankly somewhat shocked, actually,” Davies said of the Trudeau government’s drug measures. “If 50 Canadians were dying a week from ebola, or dengue fever, or H1N1, I bet you’d see the federal government marshaling its resources in a very quick way to respond to that emergency. With people dying there is no excuse for the government not to allocate resources to deal with it. This budget is just a complete failure to do that.”

The federal government has allocated $16 million recently for British Columbia and Alberta to fight their fentanyl-fueled overdose crisis but doesn’t budget any further spending in that area over the next five years.

Davies does give credit to the Liberals for reinstating harm reduction in its drug strategy and for introducing legislation to repeal a Conservative bill that made it nearly impossible for provinces to establish supervised injection and consumption sites.

But the Canadian Drugs and Substance Strategy funding, most of which is devoted to the Liberal’s plan to decriminalize marijuana, isn’t enough to fend off an escalating crisis, Davies said.
“I was looking for a significant injection of new money, particularly aimed at treatment,” he said.

The NDP has called on the federal government to declare a national public welfare emergency to address overdose deaths.

Davies said doing so would also Ottawa to fast-track emergency funding to provinces dealing with the crisis and allow for the creation of emergency hospital and clinics throughout the country.

Overdose prevention sites like those established by Vancouver Coastal Health are currently unsanctioned and operating outside federal laws.

Criticism of the Liberal’s response to the crisis has also come from within.

In January, Hedy Fry, Liberal MP for Vancouver Centre, told The Canadian Press the party needs “to be doing something about it faster than we are doing it”.

She suggested that a regional bias, albeit unintentional, might be at play.

“I think that it is that the whole country isn’t suffering from the same problem – it’s B.C. and Alberta,” Fry said. “It’s not starting on Ontario, and I would suggest to you that once it gets bad in Ontario, we will notice action being taken.”

During a visit to British Columbia earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ruled out decriminalizing any other drugs beyond marijuana to deal with overdose deaths.

“We are not planning on including any other illicit substances in the move towards legalizing and controlling and regulating,” he said. “[The crisis] is an issue that we are taking very seriously and we will continue to engage in.”

with files from The Canadian Press

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