If elected to federal government, New Democrat Party leader Jagmeet Singh said he wants to tackle the opioid crisis in B.C. with a new approach.
Statistics released by the BC Coroners Service on Wednesday showed that about four people die each day from an overdose in the province.
In September, a total of 128 people died from illicit drugs. More than 1,100 people have died from drug overdoses in B.C. this year.
After meeting with high school students in Langford on Tuesday — some of whom asked him about what he is doing to address the opioid crisis — Singh said a different approach to the problem needs to be taken.
“We need to approach [it] as a healthcare problem,” Singh said. “That means not approaching it with a criminal justice lens but using rehabilitation support services as a way to reduce the use and save lives.”
In 2017, an average of 120 people died from overdoses each month in B.C. This year, the province is on track to match or exceed those numbers.
Last year was considered to be the worst in Canadian history when it came to overdose deaths in the province.
Singh said he would want to declare the crisis as a national public health emergency to ensure funding could go directly to the provinces and front-line care providers.
Numbers from the BC Coroners Service also show that Greater Victoria has seen 64 illicit drug overdose deaths between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 of this year. That is down from 91 in 2017 but up from 22 in 2015.
Vancouver has seen the most overdose deaths this year, followed by Surrey and then Greater Victoria.
Singh said he proposes the government try to help those that are struggling with addiction rather than punish them.
“Harm reduction should be our focus, not punishment or criminalization,” Singh said.
With files from Ashley Wadhwani and Wolf Depner.