Three years after a public health emergency was called in British Columbia, the need and urgency to end the drug war is more pressing than it has ever been. The Public Health Agency of Canada recently released a grim statistic: more than ten thousand people in Canada have died from fatal overdose in under three years.
Members of Moms Stop the Harm are all too familiar with the pain of loss. They came to the National Day of Action on the Overdose Crisis to remember their loved ones and fight for policy reform. At the heart of this crisis is a simple answer that remains painfully out of reach: a safe supply of drugs.
Hundreds of people gathered at 10:30 a.m. outside of Insite, North America’s first sanctioned supervised injection site, for the National Day of Action. A band welcomed the crowd as people brought floats and carried signs.
The tragedy touches all corners of society and attracted people from across the province. Similar events were happening in other provinces as well.
The day was a national call for action. In 2017 alone, 4034 people died from fatal overdose across Canada.
Three people die every single day in Canada from unintentional opioid overdoses.
— ReedSiemieniuk. (@RSiemieniuk) April 16, 2019
The drug war has been a catastrophic failure. Prohibition and criminalization have handed the global supply of drugs into the hands of highly organized, transnational criminal organizations where an insatiable drive for profit blinds them from the human toll. Drugs, now laced with fentanyl and its analogues, are ravaging communities with little regard for the safety of consumers.
Canadian Drug Policy Coalition executive director Donald MacPherson addressed the media, echoing concerns around Canada’s fatal drug policies, which have created the current crisis, underscoring the need for a safe drug supply. The logic supporting this is so simple and strong, yet stigma born out of years of criminalization has shut down progress on this potentially powerful means to saving lives.
After initial speeches outside of Insite by organizers and an opening performance by Culture Saves Lives, the massive crowd marched up Hastings Street, flanked by police and followed by media.
They ended up at the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery where members of the community and their supporters spoke about the devastating toll of overdose deaths and unrelenting courage of people affected by the structural violence of prohibition.
“We’re out there saving lives every day. We got a lot of power as people in the Downtown Eastside.”Malcolm (Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society)
Despite the pain and grief etched on so many faces, there were strands of hope that connected people during the rally. Frontline workers, peers, and people who use drugs who have shouldered this crisis and life-saving responses including overdose prevention sites, supervised consumption services, naloxone distribution, and simply being there for people when needed, renewed a commitment to fight for their right to safety, security, and dignity.
The fight continues; and so will we.