VICTORIA, B.C. – The British Columbia Government announced Wednesday, the fifth anniversary of the overdose crisis public health emergency, the province is moving towards decriminalizing personal possession of drugs.

After conversations with police chiefs and public health officials, the province says vital measures will help combat the drug stigma and work to turn the tide on this crisis.

British Columbia is requesting a federal exemption from Health Canada to decriminalize personal possession of drugs to address the stigma. This request will help to remove the shame that, more often than not, prevents people from reaching out and asking for help.

“Stigma drives people to hide their drug use, avoid health care and use alone,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “Through provincewide decriminalization, we can reduce the fear and shame that keep people silent about their drug use, and support people to reach out for help, life-saving supports and treatment.”

The current overdose crisis in B.C. has impacted and affected almost every community. A provincewide exemption will consider the circumstances that are unique to urban, rural, and remote communities. Some of the key issues for consideration would be defining simple possession, determine the allowable drug amounts, and health and social services support for decriminalization. Consultation with law enforcement, Indigenous partners, peers, municipalities, and public health officials is planned.

The B.C. government is also providing funding to secure overdose prevention services for those at a higher risk. The $45-million investment over the next three years will help extend and enhance funding previously announced in August.

Since 2016, over 7,000 British Columbians have lost their lives from illicit drug overdoses. In recognition of this, flags across the province will be flown at half-mast.

In 2020, over 1,700 lives were lost due to drug overdose, and in the first two months of 2021, there have been 329 deaths.