B.C. Liberal leader says his party would expand free, accessible addiction treatment

Falcon tables addiction plan

B.C. Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon says a Liberal government would take a more recovery-oriented approach when it comes to addiction, with an accessible, no-cost system for anyone seeking help.

The price tag would be $1.5 billion over three years, including $995 million in treatment and recovery options — including $350 million for complex mental-health support and $100 million for homelessness — and $525 million in capital funding.

“A government under my leadership will immediately expand free and accessible treatment and recovery options,” Falcon said at a news conference Thursday, adding his plan would roll out within the first 90 days of a Liberal government.

The B.C. Liberals say they would invest $150 million a year to expand access to addiction treatment beds by eliminating user fees at not-for-profit facilities and contracting with licensed private treatment operators to directly fund the cost of residential addiction treatment.

Falcon said a B.C. Liberal government would also implement involuntary care where necessary, although it would be as a last resort. “We recognize there are some cases that require this type of intervention and support for both adults and youth.”

Falcon cited models like the Red Fish Healing Centre — located on the lands of Riverview Hospital, a former secure facility for mental-health patients – which treats patients with severe and complex mental-health and addictions problems in a caring and compassionate way.

The B.C. Liberals say they would dramatically expand that centre by tripling the beds at the existing site, and adding five regional facilities using that model in the North, Thompson-Okanagan, Kootenay and Vancouver Island regions.

Legislation would be needed to allow for involuntary treatment in “modernized, compassionate facilities” of youth and adults in addictions crisis who pose a risk of harm to themselves or others, said Falcon.

B.C. David Premier David Eby introduced the idea of using involuntary care last year as part of the government’s approach to repeat violent offenders, but has not made any announcements on it since being sworn into office.

Last year, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association — for which Eby previously served as executive director — slammed Eby’s suggestion, saying it would violate the Charter of Rights. The association noted that in the spring of 2022, the NDP government abandoned Bill 22 — which was proposed in 2020 to involuntarily keep youth in hospital for up to seven days after an overdose — because of “the trauma associated with holding youth against their will, especially Indigenous youth.”

The B.C. Liberals’ platform announcement follows this week’s launch of a three-year drug decriminalization pilot project in the province that allows users to possess small amounts of illegal drugs.

Falcon said he supports decriminalization and harm reduction, but they should be part of a comprehensive approach.

“My concern with this government is they’re entirely focused on going down the harm-reduction path, and frankly, minimizing or dismissing treatment and recovery,” said Falcon.

The sight of society’s most vulnerable lining streets of major cities struggling to survive is a “glaring example of a failure of public policy,” he said. “Breathing and being alive should not be our measure of success.”

Given the fact that more than 11,000 people have died since toxic drug poisonings were declared a public health emergency in 2016, “no one can look around and say that what we’re currently doing is working,” he said.

This week, British Columbia’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe released overdose figures for 2022, showing 2,272 residents died from toxic drugs last year. Lapointe says drug toxicity remains the leading cause of unnatural death in B.C., second only to cancers in terms of years of life lost.

“Frankly, enough is enough,” said Falcon. “It’s been seven years since a state of public emergency was called on the overdose crisis. No one honestly believes the status quo is working and doing more of the same is not going to drive better results.”

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