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Protesters call for urgent action on opioid overdose crisis

Safe supply of drugs, decriminalization of simple possession and more treatment beds needed, say those rallying at Kamloops MLA offices

Kamloops resident Angela Bigg brought the memory of her son with her to a protest calling for decriminalization and safe supply of drugs on Thursday morning (Feb. 10) amidst B.C.'s worsening overdose crisis.

From thin white string around Bigg’s neck hung a poster, pasted with photographs of her son, Casey, during his youth. Alongside those were stickers that spelled out “I Miss You” and a handwritten message Bigg had for her son.

Casey, 37, was one of 60 people who died in Kamloops in 2020 from a fatal drug overdose. In 2021, that number increased to the highest-ever 77 deaths, according to statistics released by the provincial government on Wednesday. They were among a record 2,224 people across B.C. who died from illicit drug overdoses in 2021.

Bigg said her son sought assistance for his addiction, but couldn’t get admitted to Phoenix Centre due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“We did everything we could to get him in to something [treatment program], but we couldn’t,” she told KTW.

When he died 16 months ago, Casey had been clean for two weeks, but was in pain and struggling. Bigg said he slipped up and used behind a local Tim Hortons, where he was found brain-dead. She said doctors told her, while her son was on life support, that he overdosed from a mix of fentanyl and crystal meth.

“He was a good man,” an emotional Bigg said.

On Thursday, two groups of protesters, associated with The Loop drop-in centre and Moms Stop The Harm, rallied outside the offices of Kamloops MLA s Peter Milobar (in the 600-block of Tranquille Road in North Kamloops) and Todd Stone (in the 400-block of Victoria Street downtown) demanding policy changes from government.

The rallies involved a “die-down” display, in which the protesters lay on the ground for 77 seconds — one second for each life lost to illicit drug overdoses in Kamloops last year.

About 10 people took part in the Tranquille Road demonstration, waving signs and using a bullhorn to shout slogans supporting safe supply.

Milobar’s office was closed.

Proponents of a safe illicit drugs supply say it can help prevent overdose deaths by providing access to clean, government-regulated substances as an alternative to the toxic illegal street supply, known to contain fentanyl, which is causing more than 80 per cent of deaths.

Mick Sandy, a local advocate associated with The Loop, led the North Kamloops protest.

“We need action,” Sandy said is his message to his local MLAs. “We need true, legitimate safe supply now so we can stop having these preventable deaths at an exponential rate.”

An average of 6.1 people per day in B.C. died from drug overdose deaths in 2021. Kamloops had a rate of about six to seven people a month who lost their lives.

“The lack of action, at this point, is negligent,” Sandy said. “There are evidence-based and research supported methods to assist these people that we are not acting on.”

Along with a call for a safe drug supply, those demonstrating are also urging the provincial government to increase treatment beds and pressure Ottawa on decriminalizing the simple possession of hard drugs.