The BC Nurses Union wants the federal government to decriminalize opioids, saying safe injection sites are not enough. File photo

BC Nurses Union calls for decriminalization of opioids

BCNU president wants the federal government to do more to reduce preventable deaths

The BC Nurses Union is calling for action on the opioid overdose crisis.

BC Nurses Union president Christine Sorensen called on the federal government to decriminalize opioids, saying that despite provincial efforts the death tolls are high.

“BC has some of the most progressive harm reduction programs and policies and has been a leader in promoting supervised injection sites,” she wrote. “Yet the province continues to face one of the worst overdose crises in the country – almost 2,000 British Columbians died of preventable opioid overdose in 2016 and 2017. And in March of this year, we saw overdoses spike to 160, the second highest monthly toll in the province’s history.”

Sorensen is a public health nurse who works in prevention, and said that through her work she’s been exposed to the humanity of people who suffer from addiction.

“Nobody grows up wanting to be addicted to anything, this happens because people have complex health issues and complex personal lives,” she said. “The reason we’ve come out on this is that substance abuse is a health issue, not a criminal or moral one.”

RELATED: 511 overdose deaths in B.C. so far in 2018: Coroner

Decriminalization would help break the stigma that drives many people to hide their actions, or prevent them from seeking help, Sorensen said, noting that 90 percent or those who died in 2017 were at home and alone.

“Supervised injection sites alone don’t help these people,” Sorensen said. “We need to stop treating the most vulnerable members of our society like criminals. We’ve learned from countries like Portugal that when you decriminalize, people feel safe enough to ask for treatment.”

As front line workers, nurses see more overdoses than most, and reports of trauma and anxiety have been reported.

“We’ve seen so many patients we care for die,” she said. “The psychological distress of people dying, of people overdosing repeatedly and not being able to help people in need, it makes you feel helpless.”

Declaring the current crisis a national public health emergency under the Emergencies Act would allow Ottawa to effectively address the issue and reduce preventable deaths, she noted.

RELATED: Moms of those killed by illicit opioids take to B.C. Legislature in call for action

As an example of the toll the crisis is taking on families and communities, Sorensen pointed to the death of Ryan Hedican of Comox, who died of an opioid overdose last year at age 26. His death prompted his parents, Jennifer and John Hedican, to start a petition in March asking the federal government to decriminalize opioids. Since it began it has gathered nearly 3,000 signatures.

In an interview in June, Jennifer Hedican told Black Press the opioid crisis was getting less attention than other epidemics.

RELATED: Parents grieving teen’s overdose death say it started with opioid prescription

“We need it to be a national public health emergency, like it was for H1N1, SARS and Ebola, which they haven’t done for the opioid epidemic … at this point more people have died from drugs than the other three combined,” she said. “We’re hoping to have as many signatures as the people who have died over the last two and a half years, which would be more than 10,000.”

Sorensen is encouraging the public to sign the petition, which calls for the government to declare the opioid crisis a national public health emergency, that drugs be decriminalized and that a safe source of drugs be provided.

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter
and Instagram

Just Posted

Only steps away: Gutsy Walk returns to Kelowna

The walk to cures for Crohn’s disease and colitis comes June 2

Sister of cancer victim cycles across Canada to raise awareness

Her journey started on May 14 and will end in early August

Top women’s hockey player Natalie Spooner coming to the Okanagan

Natalie Spooner special guest at annual Grindstone Award Foundation charity weekend in Kelowna

Woman in hospital after being thrown off horse

She was airlifted to Kelowna General Hospital from Okanagan Falls

Update: Washed out South Okanagan road temporarily closed for assessment

A portion of Eastside Road, south of Penticton, appears to be crumbling into Skaha Lake

‘Teams that win are tight’: B.C. Lions search for chemistry at training camp

The Lions added more than 50 new faces over the off-season, from coaching staff to key players

Update: Plan to see more smoke from South Okanagan wildfire

Richter Creek wildfire, 12 kilometres west of Osoyoos, is an estimated 400 hectares

Should B.C. already be implementing province-wide fire bans?

A petition is calling for B.C. Wildfire Service to issue a ban to reduce risk of human caused wildfires

Growing wildfire prompts evacuation of High Level, Alta.

Chuckegg Creek fire has been burning for several day, but grew substantially Sunday

Okanagan art gallery releases their theme

Fine arts painting will be the point of focus for this year’s event

South Okanagan search and rescue help injured climber

Search and rescue called on the assistance of a helicopter to help retrieve an injured hiker

Okanagan nature centre fundraiser goes western

Allan Brook’s Nature Centre Wine and Wild West Fundraiser is on July 6

Marriage proposal on the big screen at Enderby drive-in

Kelowna man gets engaged in front of hundreds to Vernon sweetheart

Take-home drug testing kits latest pilot to help curb B.C.’s overdose crisis

Researchers look to see if fentanyl testing could be a useful tool for those who use drugs alone

Most Read