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324 women died of drug overdose in British Columbia in 2020

By Laurel McBride
February 11, 2021

Honourable Sheila Malcolmson
Minister of Mental Health and Addictions
British Columbia

Dear Minister Malcolmson:

The BC Coroners Report that was published today (February 11, 2021) reveals that 324 women died of drug overdose in British Columbia in 2020.

From our frontline work we know that women often turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with the violation of their bodily autonomy and the intense feelings of blame and shame that are heaped on women in the aftermath of sexual violence. Further, we see that men use drugs and alcohol to facilitate attacks or as part of gaining and maintaining control over women. 65% of women in the sex trade who call us disclose a dependency on alcohol and/or drugs. Some women told us that they were first dependent on drugs (most often as a coping response to past sexual violence) and turned to prostitution as a means to pay for the drugs. Other women told us that they started using drugs or alcohol frequently as a way to cope with the experience of prostitution.

When we call on behalf of women trying to access detox services, we are told that the waitlist to get a detox bed is 4 days long and wait times for residential treatment centres are routinely between 4-12 weeks. As detox is a prerequisite to get into a residential treatment centre, calling for space represents the first of many steps that a woman seeking support for addiction must take. Much can change between that initial call and a bed becoming available. British Columbia must ensure that detox beds are available on demand and provide immediate entry into long term treatment centres.

We welcome the recent funding announcement that directs $16 million toward new treatment beds in British Columbia but we echo the concern that many community advocates have raised regarding the standard of care provided in these facilities. We also must stress the necessity of women-only detox and treatment centres. Women frequently report to us being targeted by men in mixed-sex treatment centres and in AA/NA groups. Women must be afforded a safe place to focus on building a life free from addiction and male violence.

Of course, detox and recovery services on demand are crucial but cannot replace an adequate response to women’s poverty, scarcity of safe and affordable housing, and men’s violence against women. We expect the provincial government to implement an immediate, effective and comprehensive response to these issues. British Columbia can and must do better for women.


Laurel McBride, For the collective of Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter

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