We’ve Been Here Before – Overdose Deaths in BC, 1994

Former BC Chief Coroner Vince Cain, in his report on British Colombia’s opioid overdose catastrophe in the nineties, conducted a thorough analysis of the problem we were facing then. Among other things he was very clear that the overdose problem needed public health and social responses, not criminal justice responses and that drug policies needed to be reviewed. He even called for a commission to do the work. Twenty-two years later we are still waiting for that review. Read his report and weep. Weep for the lives lost to the continuing failure to radically change our approach to drugs in this country. We must stop criminalizing people who use drugs and work towards regulating all psychoactive substances in the name of consumer protection. To do otherwise is clearly to repeat the disasters of the past.

Here is his prescient report released in 1994 that called for decriminalization and clinical prescribing of heroin so help stem the overdose crisis.


“By far the most controversial part of the report will be Chapter VIII, on Legalization and Decriminalization. Legalization is a huge issue which, while the drug problem is largely here, does not have a unique British Columbian solution. It is bigger than Canada, indeed bigger than North America. It is international in scope and in law. Canadian laws and United Nations conventions control this matter, but that ought not detract from the reality of the situation in British Columbia. We have the problem, and we must do what we can about it, now. Consequently, I am recommending the establishment of a commission to examine and challenge those legal aspects of the problem, amongst so many other things. The problem must be looked at with regard to not only the aspect of deaths form heroin and cocaine, but rather the entire smorgasbord of available illicit narcotics, both so-called “soft” and “hard” drugs.

Simultaneously, I am recommending the decriminalization of simple possession of specific “soft and “hard” drugs, the specificity to be left to the experts on that commission. We have a serious problem and I submit that those directly affected ought to be dealt with through a medical model, not a criminal model, even to the point where I am suggesting the possibility of providing heroin to seriously addicted people, in a para-medical model. One material reason for this would be to reduce the demand from the street trafficker, replacing it through the clinic, not unlike the current situation with methadone.”
Page VI – Report of the Task Force into Illicit and Narcotic Overdose Deaths in British Columbia – Office of the Chief of Coroner

Download Cain’s Report, 1994

(seulement en anglais)

Cain, 1994 Report Submission

Donald MacPherson

About Donald MacPherson

Donald MacPherson is the Executive Director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and one of Canada’s leading figures in drug policy. In 2000 he published Vancouver’s groundbreaking Four Pillars Drug Strategy that precipitated a broad public discussion on issues related to addiction.

Sign up for latest news and updates

MEDIA ADVISORY: Public forum to look at models... May 6, 2019

Going beyond decriminalization and envisioning a post-prohibition Canada where substances are legal and regulated What: Community forum featuring an international panel of experts on drug policy and experts with lived…

National Day of Action on the Overdose Crisis... April 18, 2019

Hundreds of supporters and community members converged in downtown Vancouver to send a message to policymakers. Prohibition is costing lives and safe supply is urgently needed.


From October 3 – 5, 2018, advocates and those inspired to create new approaches to drugs will be together in Edmonton, AB. This has been a CDPC vision for a long time….


This is a guest blog provided by Nazlee Maghsoudi. The Canadian Drug Policy attended HR17 and we are pleased to share this account of the conference. INCREASING INTERNATIONAL INTEREST IN DRUG…

insite vigil poem by the late Bud Osborn March 1, 2017

Last week, for the National Day of Action for the Overdose Crisis, we marched with 922 feathers, one for every life lost in BC in 2016. Our Executive Director, Donald MacPherson,…

In Memory of Raffi Balian February 22, 2017

Raffi Balian passed away on February 16, 2017 Raffi was one of the founding members of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC). He was very excited that the founding group…