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B.C. moves to decriminalize drug possession and further fund overdose prevention

The Provincial Government will officially take steps to decriminalize personal possession of drugs in B.C., alongside a commitment of $45-million over three years to fund overdose prevention.

B.C. said the step will address the stigma of drug use, and remove the shame that often stops people from reaching out for help.

“Stigma drives people to hide their drug use, avoid health care and use alone,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “Through provincewide decriminalization, we can reduce the fear and shame that keep people silent about their drug use, and support people to reach out for help, life-saving supports and treatment.”

The announcement comes as B.C. marks the five-year anniversary since declaring the overdose crisis and public health emergency on April 14, 2016. Since the declaration, over 7,000 B.C. residents died from overdoses.

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The B.C. Government said officials with the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions and Health Canada have been working on an agreement that outlines how it will apply for an exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which governs simple drug possession.

Issues up for consideration in the agreement include defining simple possession, determining allowable drug amounts and ensuring the readiness of law enforcement, health and social services to support decriminalization.

Consultation with Indigenous partners, peers, law enforcement, municipalities and public health officials is in the works.

Additionally, the B.C. Government announced a $45-million boost to secure recently expanded overdose prevention services for people at high risk. The funding will be spread over the next three year, and enhance funding announced in August 2020 to support life-saving services.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is having devastating effects on people who use drugs – illicit substances are more toxic and people are struggling with increased isolation,” Malcolmson said. “Today, our government is committing to sustain and enhance services in every health authority to prevent overdose deaths and connect people to supports. There’s more to come as we continue building the comprehensive system of mental health and addictions care that British Columbians deserve.”

According to the Province, the funding will support people who use drugs by allowing health authorities to continue scaling up their regional responses. More registered nurses will be hired around the province, who can prescribe addiction treatment medications, as well as social workers and peer support workers for new and existing outreach teams.

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