B.C’s new minister of mental health and addiction pushes for drug decriminalization

Shelia Malcolmson was sworn into her new role as minister of mental health and addictions virtually on Nov. 26.
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Decriminalization of possessing small amounts of illicit street drugs is a top priority for B.C.’s new minister of mental health and addiction. Shelia Malcolmson, MLA for Nanaimo, said she has already had a conversation with her federal counterpart and she is optimistic the federal government will cooperate to move legislation forward.

“[Decriminalization] gets at the stigma and the criminalization of drug use, which leads to more people using alone or hiding their addiction from their family,” Malcolmson said.

The minister said she will draw experience from serving her region as a member of parliament and MLA. “I have learned tremendously from people on the frontlines and I am determined to work to support their life-saving work.”

COVID-19 has set the province back in efforts to combat the overdose problem, she said. B.C. reported 162 drug related deaths in October, according to the Coroners report.

Malcolmson said the coroner identified construction workers as being over represented in the deaths. In 2020, 83 per cent of drug toxicity deaths occurred indoors — 55 per cent in private residences and 28 per cent in other residences, such as supportive housing, shelters and motels, according to the Coroner’s Report.

“The firefighters in Nanaimo are very clear to me that the majority of people that die from drug overdoses are people that have full-time jobs and own their own homes and died in a lonely bedroom in their suburban home. It’s not the open street, visible drug use that kind of characterizes the problem,” Malcolmson said.

Decriminalization is a step toward treating the overdose crisis as a healthcare issue, rather than a legal one and it is one of many steps the provincial government is taking to combat the crisis, according to Malcolmson.

Other actions include supplying prescription alternatives to illicit drugs and investigating poor pain management because of its link to addiction and potential to lead to street drugs.

David Eby, B.C.’s attorney general, is working on suing pharmaceutical companies for the cost to healthcare caused by their drugs.   

“This is such a complex issue — there are so many things that have led to the overdose crisis and we are trying and working simultaneously on a dozen different approaches to save lives and going that legal route is one of them,” Malcolmson said.

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