Provincial health officer’s statement on International Overdose Awareness Day

Press Release

Aug. 31, 2023

VICTORIA – Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, has issued the following statement regarding the International Overdose Awareness Day:

“Today, as we mark International Overdose Awareness Day, we also affirm the inherent rights and title of B.C. First Nations, and we recognize the inherent rights to health and wellness of all First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people living in the province. Indigenous Peoples and communities continue to be disproportionately impacted by this crisis that compounds the harms of colonial history and intergenerational trauma. We must uphold our foundational obligations to Indigenous Peoples as we reflect on the theme this year of recognizing those people who go unseen in the unregulated, toxic-drug crisis. This public-health crisis and provincial health emergency continues to impact people, our friends, loved ones, and neighbours, from all walks of life.

“Beyond the many families and friends grieving the loss of a loved one, those often unseen in the crisis include health-care and harm-reduction workers, the bystanders carrying and administering naloxone, the first responders who attend overdose events outside the public eye, and those advocating to help people who use drugs to be able to do so safely.

“I know the unregulated and toxic-drug supply issue has sparked difficult conversations throughout the province. I am hopeful that these discussions will focus on what we can do collectively to save lives.

“Almost seven people in B.C. are losing their lives daily to this unregulated, toxic-drug supply.  Especially troubling for me is the BC Coroners Service data that shows that overdoses are now the leading cause of death among youth. We are seeing evidence that many deaths are among those isolated and not engaging in care due to stigma and lack of safe pharmaceutical alternatives. As I have said previously, these deaths are preventable; we must all refocus our efforts.

“We must have the courage to be bold, innovative, open-minded, and anti-racist. While I’m proud that British Columbia has taken an important step around decriminalization of people in possession of drugs for their own use and with innovations in access to prescribed safer supply, we know that these are only part of the work that must be done. This includes upholding inherent Indigenous rights, access to safe housing, food security, income security, harm-reduction services, and health services that meet people’s needs where they are.

“We must recognize that recovery is a journey and that every person’s journey is different. That recovery is not defined by absolute measures such as abstinence from all drugs, but is a process of change through which people improve their health and wellness, have the same opportunities as others to live self-determined lives and strive in their own unique way to reach their full potential.

“Now is the time to address the conflation of decriminalization and public safety; it is time to collectively confront the misinformation and false rhetoric some are pushing out for personal or political gain, suggesting that access to safer supply and decriminalization of people who use drugs has led to increased harm and public drug use. This is not supported by data and these tactics are creating harm and further stigma that make reaching out for help unsafe.

“We know that what continues to drive the fatal outcomes for people who use drugs in B.C. is an increasingly toxic, unregulated, and unpredictable illicit drug supply contaminated primarily with fentanyl and its analogues, but also with benzodiazepines and other adulterants.

“We must, as a community, call out the rhetoric that plays on people’s fears about safety and valid concerns about the cost of housing, food insecurity and inflation to unjustly target people who are homeless and people who use drugs. We must also dispel the false dichotomy that pits harm reduction against treatment; both are necessary, and more options are needed for both to support people on their recovery journey. We need to have the courage to continue to have these conversations, even when they are difficult. We know connection and respectful conversation have the power to change minds and combat stigma – and that saves lives.

“Together, we can continue to find solutions that are grounded in love and care, not fear and discrimination. We must work collectively to get there. This provincial public-health emergency deserves continued urgency in attention – we all have a part to play.”


Ministry of Health Communications
250 952-1887 (media line)


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