Safe drugs save lives – that was the message during a march through Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Friday (April 14), marking the seventh anniversary of the toxic drug public health emergency.
The “Parade of the Horribles” started at Oppenheimer Park Friday afternoon, with hundreds marching down Powell Street toward Main Street and beyond, before looping back to the park. The event was hosted by the Drug User Liberation Front.
“A 747 jet of people dies every three months. A bus of people dies once every week,” noted Eris Nyx in an interview with Black Press Media during a barbecue that kicked off the event.
The data shows B.C. recorded an average of 119.9 overdoses a day in March. The previous 30-day high was 116.2 recorded from July to August 2021.
From March 15 to April 2, Emergency Health Services was notified of 100 or more poisonings on each of those 19 days. The previous record for consecutive days was 15, set in August 2021.
Last year, the toxic drug supply claimed nearly 2,300 lives in B.C.
B.C. was the first jurisdiction in Canada to declare a public health emergency over increasing overdoses on April 14, 2016. Overdose deaths had reached 474 in 2015, a 30 per cent increase from the year before, and the government said more people were dying every month.
Nyx said it’s a “hopeless situation.”
“I’m tired. You do this year in, year out, over and over.”
As people marched through the streets, they cried out for safe drugs. There were also plans to hand out clean drugs – free of fentanyl – following the march.
“It’s really killing everybody and without a regulated supply, everyone just dies. The government isn’t doing anything to produce a regulated supply.”
In January, the province decriminalized small amounts of illicit drugs as part of what officials said is intended to prevent toxic drug poisonings killing more than 150 people each month.
The pilot project will continue until Jan. 31, 2026, after a federal exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. B.C. advocates began calling for action in 2016, when the government declared its first public health emergency over a staggering spike in fatalities.
The province was granted the exemption in 2022 for 2.5 grams of personal possession – two grams less than initially requested.
– With files from the Canadian Press