Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian had a message for B.C.’s health minister on Friday afternoon when he called for provincial changes to solving the opioid crisis: “We are losing this war.”
During a question-and-answer period with Health Minister Adrian Dix at a Kamloops Chamber of Commerce luncheon talk on health care, Christian labelled “unacceptable” the deaths of 48 city residents last year due to illicit overdoses.
The deaths are part of what provincial health authorities have deemed a heath-care crisis, with fentanyl contaminating the illicit drug supply.
Christian also noted the recent spate of drug-related crime in Kamloops and called for changes from the provincial health officer and ministries of health and mental-health and addictions. He asked specifically how $30 million in funding allocated to mental health and addictions in the B.C. budget will be allocated.
“Are you going to look at a different way in terms of our approach to the opioid crisis?” he asked the minister.
Dix said public thinking on addictions issues over the last decade has been “ahead of the institutions.” He harkened back to former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who campaigned against safe-injection sites. Dix said B.C.’s mental-health and addictions minister, Judy Darcy, is “expanding the range of treatment and opportunities.”
However, no local commitments were made.
A story published recently in the Globe and Mail notes B.C.’s health officer wants to create a provincewide in which using or possessing small amounts of illicit drugs won’t result in criminal penalties, with addiction being treated as a health issue.
Asked by KTW if he is in favour of illicit drug decriminalization, Dix would not go that far. He said the government has to work within the legal means available, noting some of those issues are federal. However, he said the debate surrounding decriminalization has changed.
“I’m in favour of taking all the actions we need to take to deal with the opioid crisis,” Dix said.
About 40 people were on hand at The Residence at Orchards Walk during the Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Dix cited the challenge on health care in a province with longer life expectancies each year and pointed to health-care investments locally, including the Royal Inland Hospital patient-care tower, the RIH urgent-care centre, Thompson Rivers University’s Nursing Building and a reduction of MRI wait times.
Dix also addressed the issue of some residents having to bus to Kelowna from Kamloops for cancer treatment:
“I understand,” he said. “And that’s true in Nanaimo, that’s true in Vanderhoof, that’s true all over the province, right? And so, what we have to do I think, to the extent we can, we want to maintain excellence, right?” Dix said.
“If you have money to spend how should you spend it? Improving the level of care and outcomes that way, even if it means people have to travel? Or doing both. And I think there’s a strong argument for both. We’re going to see in the next 20 years, I think, twice as many cancer cases because people are living longer.”