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Advocacy Issues

Our Position: Drug Policy

Date 7 Sep, 2022

Category Advocacy Issues

Read our position paper on drug policy to learn more about our stance and calls to action. To join us in creating change, sign your name to our pre-written letter that is being sent to BC Government officials.

Introduction

The toxic drug overdose crisis has reached a point in British Columbia where bold action is necessary to prevent more deaths. To combat the overdose crisis, we need legal regulation of an accessible safe supply with minimal barriers, to decriminalize drugs, and to actively address intersecting challenges such as poverty and homelessness, racism and prejudice, physical health, mental health, and trauma. People with lived and living experience need to be heard and consulted, and their voices need to be prioritized, as they are the ones who are most impacted by this crisis.

For the past decade, the circulation of toxic drugs has been increasing and has had a grave impact on the community. Since BC declared the overdose crisis on April 14, 2016, over 10,000 people have died of overdose in the province. Death from overdose is now the number one cause of unnatural death in the BC.

Our community in the Downtown Eastside is wrought with intersecting challenges, including poverty and homelessness, mental and physical illness, addiction, racism, trauma and oppression. The stigma faced by people who use substances in the Downtown Eastside is mounted and the hardships are compounded. Although people who use drugs come from all different walks of life, those who use substances in our community are often further marginalized and often face harsher stigma and criminalization.

Each of these individuals who have passed leave behind loved ones and each death greatly affects the community. These deaths could have been prevented with better access to safe supply, and the decriminalization of illicit substances.

The steps that the BC government has taken to fight the overdose crisis are insufficient. In 2022, the provincial government received exemption from Health Canada under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize the “possession of some illegal drugs for personal use.” But the action taken will not be enough to curb the alarming amount of toxic drug overdoses, and will continue to criminalize the majority of marginalized people who use substances.

The three-year exemption, starting in January 2023, only decriminalizes those who carry a cumulative threshold of 2.5 grams. Research done by local drug advocates (VANDU) indicated that 4.5 grams is closer to the amount carried by people who use drugs. With the majority of substance users carrying over 2.5 grams per individual substance, the small threshold will only ensure that the majority in the community will continue to be stigmatized and criminalized. This limit further puts those who are unhoused at a disadvantage, as they lack a place to store their drugs for future use and are limited to carrying their substances on them at all times.

FIRST UNITED believes in a multi-pronged approach to sensible, compassionate, and evidence-based drug policy that includes safe supply and legal regulation, decriminalization, and a proactive approach of addressing intersecting challenges.

Safe Supply

Access to safe supply with minimal barriers is necessary to prevent overdose from toxic drugs. It was reported by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) in 2020 that 91% of opioid-containing samples in BC contained fentanyl, analogue, and other substances. While these substances were commonly found in the unregulated drug supply, survey respondents reported not expecting or unintentionally consuming these substances (confirmed by urine samples). The reports also showed that many other unexpected substances were found in the unregulated drug supply, including novel synthetic opioids, benzodiazepines, and synthetic cannabinoids. This is particularly concerning, because benzodiazepines do not respond to naloxone, which makes it harder to reverse overdoses.

With a regulated safer supply, people who use drugs can know exactly what they are getting in their supply and how much.

Decriminalization

The seizure of drugs and mistreatment of marginalized substance users by police continues to create stigma, shame, fear around substance use, and cycles of poverty and criminalization. The fear of repercussions from law enforcement can create hesitation in marginalized substance users to seek or obtain the help of services that could potentially their lives.

While the BC government states that police will not arrest, fine, or seize drugs from people carry under 2.5 grams, they still tasked the police with referring people to health and social services. The role of police in this context is unnecessary, considering that the government stated this is a health issue and not a criminal one. Qualified social and health service professionals are much better suited to provide referrals.

Intersecting Issues

While safe supply and decriminalization are necessary, it is crucial to address the intersecting challenges often faced by people who use drugs in the community. Members of the community can face poverty and homelessness, a lack of access to resources, mental health, trauma and addiction, physical health challenges and disability, racism, and prejudice. Proper resources need to be allocated to addressing these issues, as they all play a significant role in this crisis. It is also critical to work in partnership with, and take strategic direction from, people with lived and living experience of these issues and to take actions supporting their expertise and autonomy.

Conclusion

All levels of government need to take quick, decisive, and bold action to stem the tide of deaths by overdose. But the existing approach to drug policy fails to address the issues and experiences of those who are being impacted by this crisis the most. A fully accessible safe supply is needed to combat the toxic drugs in circulation. Along with decriminalization, legal regulation and safe supply, the government also needs to listen to people with lived and living experience. They need to adequately address intersecting challenges faced by marginalized people who use substances, which include racism, mental and physical health challenges, poverty, and homelessness.

Demand drug policy changes to save lives

Date 10 Aug, 2022

Category Advocacy Issues

Let your MLA know that we need bigger and bolder changes for decriminalization and legal regulation to be effective, and to stop drug overdose deaths.

The Government of British Columbia’s approach to drug policy is flawed and set up to fail. The province needs to take bolder action—immediately—to end the overdose crisis.

Over 10,000 lives have been lost since BC declared the overdose crisis in April 2016. Today, an average of 6.3 people die per day from overdoses*; the majority of these are due to toxic or poisoned drugs

While the province announced that it will decriminalize small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use, the threshold of 2.5 grams per person is almost half of what is needed by people who use drugs. This small limit means that many who use substances will remain criminalized, stigmatized and vulnerable to toxic drug overdose.

Will you use your voice and join FIRST UNITED in demanding more from the government? Let your MLA know that we need bigger and bolder changes for decriminalization and legal regulation to be effective, and to stop drug overdose deaths.

If you don’t see the form to submit your letter below, please refresh your browser page to try again.

*Based on the number of drug toxicity deaths in May 2022

Eviction Survey

Date 24 Jun, 2022

Category Advocacy Issues

Help tell the story of eviction in British Columbia. 

Have you been evicted or forced to move? Share your story and the impact it’s had on you. We want to use this information to help make tenant protections stronger in B.C.

 

This project is being run by the Legal Advocacy program at First United in Vancouver, BC, that gives legal help to tenants.  We want to document and understand evictions and forced moves of tenants in British Columbia.

We want to learn:
-where evictions and forced moves are happening in our communities,
-who is affected by them, and
-what the impacts are.

The information you provide may be included in a general map, and by participating, you agree that we can use your information on a general map (without identifying you).  An example of this would be placing a dot on the map to show the approximate location of your eviction.

You do not need to give your name in this survey, and you may choose not to give your email or phone number.

We will never share any identifying information about you (such as your email or phone number) without your consent. 

Identifying information will be visible only to the Staff Lawyer and designated staff within the Advocacy program.

Read First United’s privacy policy for more information.

GETTING LEGAL HELP

If you need legal help for an eviction, please contact one of the following:
TRAC BC: https://tenants.bc.ca/ or 1-800-665-1185
First United Advocacy: [email protected] or 604.251.3323
Access Pro Bono Residential Tenancy Program: [email protected] or 1-877-762-6664 ext. 1500

This project takes places on the traditional and unceded lands of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish),  səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), QayQayt, Kwantlen, q̓íc̓əy̓ (Katzie), Semiahmoo, and Tsawwassen
First Nations, kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem), and Stó:lō Nation.  We continue to learn and work toward respectful relations with the land and its people.

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Recent Updates

7 Sep, 2022
Our Position: Drug Policy
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10 Aug, 2022
Demand drug policy changes to save lives
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5 Jul, 2022
Toast Talks: June 2022
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