Sharon Boucher knows the pain of B.C.’s overdose crisis more than most.
Both her nephew and sister-in-law have died due to overdose. She brought their photos to the Coalition of Substance Users of the North (CSUN) rally which marked five years since the province officially declared a public health emergency related to overdoses.
Group founder Charlene Burmeister said it’s tough looking back on five years of inaction.
“People with lived and living experience have been working to create these days of action to reflect on the fact there has been little to no effective change,” she said. “We still have complete resistance and or little to no effective action from Federal and Provincial government who have the ability to minimize the negative impacts on people who use drugs.”
Despite declaring an emergency, deaths related to overdoses continue to rise. Over 1,700 people died in 2021. That’s five people a day, just in B.C. Coalition members drew five chalk outlines in front of the Quesnel courthouse to represent those lives.
“The impacts of COVID-19 highlighted the immensely precarious situation of those experiencing problematic substance use in our province,” chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said in February. “It’s clear that urgent change is needed to prevent future deaths and the resulting grief and loss so many families and communities have experienced across our province.”
Burmeister added the effects of the overdose crisis are increased in rural areas.
“People with lived and living experience have been sharing what we know are the answers and are evidence-based approaches to substance use overall, and nothing has happened to date,” she said. “It’s a constant reminder people who use drugs lives’ do not matter.”
The coalition shared five demands to federal and provincial governments to stop the overdose crisis. The demands include creating a national safe supply program, expanding funding for overdose prevention programs and protecting good Samaritan act protections to include all drug-related crimes.
“It clearly is government-supported genocide at this point,” Burmeister said. “There has been no tangible action to reduce the loss of the lives of people who use drugs.”
For Boucher and her family, those potential solutions won’t be in time, but she was there so others don’t feel the pain of overdoses like she does.
“I’m concerned about other young people who are doing (drugs),” she said. “I want to stand for them and help them out.”
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