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Safe consumption forefront of countering the overdose crisis, prime minister says

RICHMOND, B.C. — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and British Columbia Premier David Eby shook hands, pledged to work together then posed for the media on Friday, two weeks after Eby was sworn in as premier.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, meets with B.C. Premier David Eby before an announcement at the Richmond Jewish Day School, in Richmond, B.C., on Friday, December 2, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

RICHMOND, B.C. — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and British Columbia Premier David Eby shook hands, pledged to work together then posed for the media on Friday, two weeks after Eby was sworn in as premier. 

Trudeau said it was a "real pleasure” to meet with the premier. The two men spoke privately before the media was allowed to take photos.  

“It’s a great opportunity for us to really dig into the many things you’ve hit the ground running on," Trudeau said of their meeting. 

He said they spoke about several things, including the housing shortage, child care, climate change, public safety, mental health, addictions and the overdose crisis.  

Eby said he was glad to hear Trudeau talk about issues related to public safety and building a cleaner economy. 

”I'm excited to work with you and get to work on those priorities (in which) we share responsibility and I think it'll be a great day," he said.

Their meeting came just a few days after B.C.'s coroner released the overdose death toll for October of 179 people, saying the illicit drug supply has created an environment where everyone who uses substances is at risk. 

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe urged the government to ensure access to a safer supply of drugs was available across the province. 

Trudeau told a crowd in Richmond, B.C., where he and Eby spoke about investments in child care, that they are working with provincial governments to ensure science and data are used to counter the epidemic. 

"We were happy to move forward with B.C. in landmark steps on drug supply just a number of months ago, but we know there’s much more to do. We’ll continue to work hand-in-hand with the province to ensure people are kept safe," he said.

The coroner said more than 1,800 people died of illicit drug overdoses in the first 10 months of this year, while almost 10,700 have died since the province declared a health emergency in April 2016. 

Trudeau called the Opposition Conservative leader's recent video "incredibly ignorant," referring to Pierre Poilievre's claim that a safe supply of drugs for addicts is a failed experiment. 

Poilievre used a homeless camp in Vancouver's Crab Park as a backdrop in a video posted to social media to say that B.C. was on track to have over 2,000 drug overdose deaths for this year. 

"This is deliberate policy by 'woke' Liberal and NDP governments to provide taxpayer-funded drugs, flood our streets to easy access to these poisons," he said. 

Poilievre said the experiment has been tried in other countries with the same results: major increases in overdoses. 

Eby said during questions from reporters that the province has an important partnership with the federal government in trying to separate people from those who are selling toxic drugs. 

“We have a lot of work to do in our health-care system, which was key in our conversations, and mental health and addiction response is part of our health-care system," Eby said of his earlier meeting with Trudeau. 

"I’ve already talked with too many parents who have lost kids, too many families who have been hurt by the overdose crisis.” 

The premier said a new model of care that he announced days after he was sworn in will allow someone recovering from an overdose to go immediately from the emergency room to detox and on to treatment. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2022. 

Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press