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Nearly 1,500 died of illicit overdoses last year in B.C.: coroner

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  • VICTORIA — More people fatally overdosed in British Columbia last year compared with 2017 despite efforts to combat the province’s public health emergency, the coroner says.

    Illicit overdose deaths increased to 1,489 in 2018, slightly higher than the 1,486 deaths recorded in 2017, the BC Coroners Service said Thursday. But it said last year’s total is likely to go higher as death investigations conclude.

    Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said the province must be ready to do things differently to save lives, adding that the drug supply is unpredictable and the opioid fentanyl was detected in 86 per cent of the overdose deaths. 

    “Substance use disorder is a health issue and forcing those attempting to manage their health issue to buy unpredictable and often toxic substances from unscrupulous profit-motivated traffickers is unacceptable,” she told a news conference.

    Fentanyl is a highly potent and addictive opioid that is estimated to be up to 100 times stronger than morphine. It is commonly mixed into opioids sold on the street, meaning users don’t know the potency of the drugs they take.

    Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy acknowledged the overdose crisis is continuing to take a toll on families throughout B.C. despite the province using “every available tool” to deal with it.

    “By the end of this day, four people will die from an overdose in British Columbia,” she said in a news release. “Most of these people will die alone, with no one beside them, no one to call for help.”

    The provincial health officer declared a public health emergency almost three years ago in B.C. as the number of drug overdoses and deaths rose.

    The figures for 2018 show middle-aged men are over-represented in the death toll, with 80 per cent of the suspected fatalities involving males. People aged 30 to 59 accounted for 71 per cent of the deaths.

    Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said people who use drugs need treatment options, rather than sending them to the criminal justice system.

    She said people at risk of overdose should also have fewer barriers to a regulated supply of opioids.

    “If we’re going to turn the corner on this complex crisis, we need to find the ways to provide safer alternatives to the unregulated and highly toxic drug supply and to end the stigma associated with criminalization of people who use drugs,” she said.

    Dr. Evan Wood, executive director with the BC Centre on Substance Use, said there’s an urgent need to end the harms caused by prohibition.

    “Its incumbent for all of us to keep the pressure on and not get complacent,” he said at a news conference. “Fentanyl, unfortunately, is something that’s not going away.”

    Leslie McBain, whose son died of a drug overdose five years ago, agreed that a stronger response is needed.

    “Work has been done, but the numbers, almost 1,500 people dying last year, is not good.”

    A task force involving mayors from 13 cities including Vancouver pushed in 2017 for prescription heroin to be made available to people who have not responded to other forms of intervention. Vancouver has the only clinic in Canada providing prescription heroin but it accepts a limited number of patients.

    Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said in December that creating a safer opioid supply was being reviewed and discussed with provinces and territories.

    Officials in cities including Vancouver and Toronto have also called for decriminalization as the number of overdose deaths increases across the country.

    Canadian health-care experts have encouraged Ottawa to adopt Portugal’s approach to drug policy, which decriminalizes limited amounts of drugs for personal use, while offering education and social supports.

    Data from a federal task force on opioid deaths said nearly 4,000 Canadians died as a result of overdoses in 2017, a 34 per cent increase from the previous year.

     

    Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press



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    Health

    Rain, wind equals no 4-20 blow out for Parliament Hill, but West Coast shines

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  • OTTAWA — It was a blow out, man, the kind that’s a total drag.

    Protesters dotted one half of Parliament Hill’s front lawn on a blustery, rainy Saturday at the climax the first 4-20 “Weed Day” demonstration since Canada legalized recreational marijuana.

    The turnout disappointed organizers who expected thousands more, but a festive atmosphere prevailed as the Peace Tower clock struck 4:20 p.m., sparking simultaneous smart phone photography and the lighting of joints, bongs and pipes.

    “The weather didn’t co-operate. It kind of shut us down,” Shawn Mac, a program director for 4-20 Ottawa, said moments earlier. “Coming and going, we’ve probably seen about 3,000, but right now, probably about a thousand.”

    A bout of blowing rain earlier in the afternoon meant the shutdown of a public address system, and a made for a sparse gathering of perhaps several dozen people, most huddled under plastic ponchos or tarps.

    Sara Bakir, 29, of Ottawa was one of early arrivals, dressed in a dark hoodie under a black umbrella.

    “It’s still nice to be out with a few like-minded people,” she said laughing, and casting her eyes at the empty and soaked brownish yellow lawn. 

    Organizers learned a tough lesson even before the rain started falling — new freedoms bring great bureaucracy.

    Mac said his group is encountering more red tape Saturday than on past April 20 protests.

    Organizers can’t use the steps to the now-closed Centre Block, which means spectators will need a front row position on the lawn to see or hear — something Mac calls a “huge letdown.” 

    “Hearing is already a problem so not being able to see is a crushing blow,” he said.

    Organizers have also been told to limit musical performers to just two, Mac said, adding that isn’t in the rules of how to hold a public event on the Hill. 

    New limits on auto access also meant organizers had to haul equipment and material by hand up to the lawn from Wellington Street, he added.

    “It’s frustrating because legalization was supposed to … make things easier and not more complicated,” he said.

    Lingering post-legalization concerns are sustaining a sense of protest among 4-20 event organizers across the country.

    They include concerns over the government’s decision to tax medicinal marijuana, slow progress on legislation to expedite pardons for people previously convicted of simple pot possession, and the fact that provincial and municipal governments are grappling with retail sales and land-use laws for growing pot.

    The federal government also has yet to legalize edible marijuana products and has six more months to set rules to do so. 

    “Everything about legalization has made things harder, which is the opposite of what is was supposed to be,” said Mac.

    Others were more upbeat and saw Saturday’s event as an inspiration to the world.

    “Again, the world is watching, and I’m very proud of Canada today and Canadians,” said Kelly Coulter, a cannabis policy adviser based in British Columbia.

    She said Canada is helping change global attitudes and policies as the first G7 nation to legalize pot, and she expected people from Germany and Britain to take part in Saturday’s festivities on the Hill.

    It was a far cry from Ottawa’s subdued festivities on the West Coast, as hoards of people crowded Vancouver’s Sunset Beach to mark the city’s 25th annual 4-20 event warmed by rays of glorious spring sunshine amid a low lying marijuana haze.

    A much smaller crowd gathered at the front lawn of British Columbia’s legislature in Victoria, but the mood was equally celebratory and defiant.

    “Today, in many ways, is bittersweet for us,” said long-time marijuana activist Ted Smith, who led the countdown chant to 4:20 p.m. in Victoria. “We’re happy it’s legalized, sure, but there’s a lot of things to protest.”

    Smith, in between puffs from a large joint, said the current marijuana rules are biased against entrepreneurs who want to sell their products in much the same way as craft brewers and winemakers.

    And a downpour didn’t dampen the festivities at Woodbine Park in Toronto’s east end, where revellers trampled through the muddy grass to the steady thrum of house music.

    Cannabis artisans sold their wares at tarp-covered stands, many expressing hope that they could one day emerge from the “grey market” to set up shop at brick-and-mortar storefronts.

    Justin Loizos, owner of the Just Compassion marijuana dispensary in Toronto, said the mood Saturday was more celebratory than in past 4-20 gatherings, which felt more like protests.

    The current regime may not be the “legalization people asked for,” Loizos said, but the cannabis community should take heart in just how far Canada has come.

    “I see a lot of people complaining, whatever — don’t,” he said. “We’re just going to celebrate here and enjoy the day.”

    — with files from Adina Bresge and Dirk Meissner.

    Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press




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    Celebrity Dance Off

    Travolta and Newton-John wrap up the Celebrity Dance Off

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  • Trevor Sopracolle went from watching the Celebrity Dance Off last year, to being front and centre this year!  Trevor was the first “Oil Man” in the Celebrity Dance Off.  Hopefully the first of many.  He’s also one of the toughest looking Travolta’s you’ll ever see.  Trevor and his pro partner Alex McPherson wrapped up the show with a brilliant choice of music from Grease.  “Olivia” was amazing.. and “John” turned the world upside down.  See for yourself. .. 

    My Story…

    I was born in Goodsoil, Saskatchewan and moved to Alberta when I was in grade 3 and spent most of my youth in Consort.

    I lost my Dad to cancer when I was in high school and so I grew up fast. At 17 I secured a loan for a 2-bedroom house with a dirt floor basement. To make ends meet, I worked as a tire technician at the local tire shop while attending high school. One of the only benefits of owning your own place in high school is having the coolest parties after the high school dances!

    I moved to Red Deer in 1999 at the age of 19 and began working at Fountain Tire. Not long later a local snubbing company hired me. Over a 10-year period I worked my way up becoming a senior supervisor overseeing most of the higher-class pressure jobs and many overseas projects. In 2008, Garrett Radchenko and I started Goliath Snubbing Ltd., and we haven’t looked back.

    I have also been blessed with the best kids a Dad could ask for. Being a single Dad with three kids under 8 definitely keeps me busy.


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