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A look back at Greater Victoria’s toxic drug crisis in 2022

Capital Daily and The Westshore have published over a dozen articles this past year, examining the growing crisis from every angle

By Brishti Basu
January 3, 2023
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

A look back at Greater Victoria’s toxic drug crisis in 2022

Capital Daily and The Westshore have published over a dozen articles this past year, examining the growing crisis from every angle

By Brishti Basu
Jan 3, 2023
Around 150 people march from Centennial Square to the Ministry of Health Building on Blanshard Street on International Overdose Awareness Day, Aug. 31 Photo by Brishti Basu/Capital Daily
Around 150 people march from Centennial Square to the Ministry of Health Building on Blanshard Street on International Overdose Awareness Day, Aug. 31 Photo by Brishti Basu/Capital Daily
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

A look back at Greater Victoria’s toxic drug crisis in 2022

Capital Daily and The Westshore have published over a dozen articles this past year, examining the growing crisis from every angle

By Brishti Basu
January 3, 2023
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A look back at Greater Victoria’s toxic drug crisis in 2022
Around 150 people march from Centennial Square to the Ministry of Health Building on Blanshard Street on International Overdose Awareness Day, Aug. 31 Photo by Brishti Basu/Capital Daily

Island Health is offering up to $1 million in grants to fund projects aiming to address the toxic drug crisis in BC and fill gaps in services. 

The health authority has ramped up their focus over the past two months on the public health emergency that has claimed 10,907 BC lives as of October 2022, according to the last available coroner’s data on the subject. 

“Island Health and our partners are able to provide life-saving supports to people who use drugs; however, we are not reaching everyone at risk,” reads the call for proposals posted on its website.

Last month, the health region activated its text alert system to warn people of a spike in toxic drug-related deaths, and the provincial ministry of mental health and addictions announced that Victoria will be getting a new substance-use treatment facility for women and non-binary people in 2023. The facility, our reporting found, is seen as a hopeful sign that Island Health has been taking consultation with Indigenous people seriously, while the text alert system is more performative than useful.

Over the past year, Capital Daily and The Westshore have published over a dozen articles about the toxic drug crisis in the south Island region. Stories range from deaths in the community, movements to alleviate the crisis, and a few steps in the right direction, all from the perspectives of substance users, advocates, and harm reduction workers, as well as organizations and governments. 

Greater Victoria had at least 131 residents die of drug poisoning in the first 10 months of 2022, and 786 people since toxic drugs were declared a public health emergency in BC over six years ago. 

Rather than ramping up services, the year began with the closure of a successful harm reduction clinic in Langford—one that had been operating at full capacity with 500 patients as the drug poisoning crisis worsened since it first opened in 2017, Zoë Ducklow reported. 

The summer of 2022 was a particularly deadly one in Victoria—at one point, five people died in one week. We shared stories from loved ones, many of whom are also unhoused and use substances. Nina Grossman talked to the family of 18-year-old Kylie Walker who died after a suspected overdose in October. A report, released that same month, found that the number of homeless people who died in 2021 was 75% higher than in 2020, largely because of toxic street drugs. 

In the wake of this growing crisis, calls for a safe supply of prescription alternatives to street drugs, and other harm reduction measures—like the need for an overdose prevention site in the Westshore—appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

International Overdose Awareness day on Sept. 1 brought 150 people who have been impacted by the toxic drug crisis to the streets of Victoria. They rallied from Centennial Square to the Ministry of Health building on Blanshard Street demanding safe supply and bearing signs with the images of people who have died in recent years. 

In response, Island Health has repeated the same message since at least summer 2022: they’re searching for organizations to deliver safe supply programs in Victoria, Nanaimo, and the Comox Valley. 

Some provincial actions have also been criticized for being too little, too late. Capital Daily reported that critics found a health committee report lacking in recommendations for urgent, non-medicalized safe supply options. 

One of the biggest harm reduction steps to look forward to in 2023 is the federal decision to let BC decriminalize personal possession of small amounts of controlled substances, starting Jan. 31 of this year until Jan. 31, 2026. As reported in The Westshore, the move is a major shift from attitudes just a decade ago, when the idea of decriminalization would elicit double takes. 

But with the step forward comes another one back. Health Canada cut the amount of drugs one can legally possess in BC, from the original request of 4.5g to 2.5g—a move that critics said will keep criminalizing regular users. 

In the year ahead, Capital Daily and The Westshore will continue our detailed coverage of the toxic drug crisis, the impacts (or lack thereof) of decriminalization, and other steps taken to lower the death toll and fill the gaps in services for those in need.

Correction at 4pm on Jan. 12: This story was amended to correct the number of deaths the toxic drug crisis has caused, and how long ago the public health emergency began.

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