City of Vancouver flies flag at half-mast to mark anniversary of overdose health emergency

The flag atop Vancouver’s city hall was flown at half-mast on Sunday as the city marked the lives lost in the province’s ongoing overdose crisis.

Sunday marked the third anniversary of the province declaring the overdose crisis a public health emergency.

In the 1,090 days since then, more than 3,600 people have died of overdoses — more than 1,000 of them in Vancouver itself.

The city says it will fly the flag at half-mast on April 14 every year until B.C.’s provincial health officer rescinds the state of public health emergency.

“The City is committed to addressing the issues that further exacerbate the struggles around substance use. A comprehensive approach to illicit substance use including prevention, harm reduction and treatment, will save so many lives,” said Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart in a statement.

“We call upon health professionals, all levels of government, and the public to join us in advocating for a safe drug supply, in Vancouver and elsewhere in Canada, to protect residents and prevent any more unnecessary deaths.”

Stewart joined a number of other experts and stakeholders, including the BC Centre on Substance Use and B.C.’s chief medical health officer, in calling for the decriminalization of hard drugs, to ensure people with addictions are not dying from contaminated street drugs.

The federal government is in charge of policy around drug legalization but the provincial government does have jurisdiction over prosecutions. Currently, B.C. is working on ways to prescribe prescription-grade heroin to drug users and provide other medications on a regular basis.

Statistics from the BC Coroners Service showed the number of overdose deaths levelling off at about three people per day province-wide in January.

However, they also found a concerning spike in the number of deaths related to fentanyl analogue carfentanil, which is 100 times as powerful as its cousin.

-With files from Richard Zussman

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