By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

The emergency task force, comprised of 115 members, from Vancouver has made a call based on the ongoing high number, unusually so, of overdoses within the province. The current estimates for the period of January to September of 2018 is a total of 1,143 British Columbians deceased due to “illicit drug overdoses in the province.

These numbers a staggering, troubling, and tragic. No question about it. The questions following from this, in terms of not repeating the mistakes, are what we’re going to do about this in order to not repeat our collective mistakes of the past, where these mistakes costs the real lives and family members and friends around the province. This shouldn’t be happening, or least at this rate.

That is to say, we can reduce the extent and rate of the deaths within the province. The emergency task force for British Columbia stated that there should be, via a call, an increase in the levels of harm reduction provisions throughout the country.

One vulnerable area with few provisions, and especially given the high risk demographics associated with  post-secondary institutions, would bee the colleges, polytechnics, and research universities within the province.

Something as simple as Naloxone kits on campus can be helpful in the fight for greater levels of lifesaving happening within the province. Of course, these do not amount to cure-alls, nor do any of the other proposed “solutions,” which are, in fact, alleviatory measures for the improve health and wellness of misusers within the province, and, indeed, around the nation.

Throughout the city, an increase in the provisions would be helpful including a second harm reduction site for substance users who can smoke under supervision in addition to having a “mobile option to reach those outside of the Downtown Eastside.”

These are cheap, effective, and reasonable harm reduction methodological implementations with the real possibility for the improved wellbeing outcomes of the individual users and the family and friends who could, potentially as with the other 1,143 others, lose loved ones and confidantes.

As reported, the Globe and Mail stated, “The task force is also recommending an 18-month pilot project that would see overdose prevention sites in at least five private single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels, an expansion of these services in non-profit SROs and a review of overdose risk in both public and private SRO bathrooms.”

Knnedy Stewart, the Mayor of Vancouver, remarked on the fifth year of the overdose crisis with “no sign of slowing down” and, reflecting on the realism of harm reduction noted before, talked about the measures not solving the problem but reducing its severity.

The BC Coroners Service compiled data and then this formulated the basis for the recommendations, in part, and a review of about 900 illicit overdose case investigations discovered 39% were from smoking substance; hence, the safe and supervised smoking can be an important and on point harm reduction in practice measure.

In addition, 86% of the illicit drug overdose deaths happened while inside and in private residences, shelters, and SROs, partly or even significantly related to the stigma associated with substance of drug use and misuse.

There is only one place for supervised smoking at the moment. The Executive Director of the Overdose Prevention Society, Sarah Blyth, moved the operations of the society inside, subsequently similar sites opened around Vancouver.

Ms. Blyth explained, “The overdoses with smoking happen immediately … people just drop… So creating places where people can do all kinds of drugs is important.” The safety and wellbeing of British Columbians is at risk around the province without further and extensive implementation of harm reduction.

Indeed, Vancouver Coastal Health is funding 27 non-profit SROs and the emergency task force suggests or recommends funding 10 more. It’s that severe and should be taken that seriously.

This would require $1 million per annum from the province, which is, probably, minute in comparison to the amount of potential lives lost in the midst of the overdose crisis.

“Another recommendation is to prioritize securing a space for a pilot project led by the BC Centre of Disease Control that would distribute the opioid hydromorphone to people who are at high risk of overdose from illicit opioids,” The Globe and Mail also reports, “Providing a clean supply would be a direct and immediate answer to the fentanyl-contaminated illicit supply that has devastated communities across North America.”

There are many, many other recommendations including low-barrier and quickly accessible opioid agonist therapies in order to protect citizens from dying who may misuse substance.

Overall, the task force aligns with the work of CSSDP here with the inclusion of harm reduction philosophy and methodology as fundamental to tackling the serious public health issue of overdoses.


Woo, A. (2018, December 18). Vancouver overdose emergency task force calls for expanded harm reduction, safe supply. Retrieved from

Photo by Aditya Chinchure on Unsplash

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