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B.C. Premier Christy Clark brings opioid concerns to Ottawa

As British Columbia reels under the weight of an opioid crisis, its politicians have come to Ottawa to cajole and perhaps even try to shame federal officials into doing more to help.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark met with federal officials on Thursday, flanked not only by her health minister and addictions experts, but also by two people whose lives have been shaken by fentanyl — a woman who lost her son to an overdose and another who has wrestled with opioid addiction herself.

Clark will hold a press conference with the two women on Parliament Hill at 12:50 p.m. ET. CBCnews.ca will carry it live.

If the emotional effect of hearing their experiences isn’t enough, B.C. is also asserting very public, political pressure. The province’s health minister, Terry Lake, told a private radio station yesterday that there would have been “much greater federal action” if the crisis had hit Ontario with the same force as it hit his province. 

The B.C. Coroner’s Service said Wednesday 622 people have died from drug overdoses in the first 10 months of 2016, an average of about two people every day. Sixty per cent of the overdose deaths are linked to fentanyl. The province declared a public health emergency back in April and has set up a task force to address the problem.

B.C. has been asking the federal government to move faster in streamlining the process to set up more supervised drug injection sites, such as Vancouver’s Insite. The premier has also called for Ottawa to do more to restrict access to pill presses and tableting machines and to pursue stronger penalties against those who import and traffic in fentanyl.

Clark discusses the opioid crisis

B.C. Premier Christy Clark, centre, attends a meeting with federal officials in Ottawa Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016 to discuss B.C.’s opioid crisis with Leslie McBain, left, a mother who lost her only son to overdose, and Mikaela Mamer, an advocate and former addict who lost her boyfriend and best friend to overdoses. On the table are photos of people who have lost their lives to opioid overdoses. (Jennifer Choi/CBC)

The meeting with federal Health Minister Jane Philpott, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Bill Blair, parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice, comes on the eve of a two-day opioid summit in Ottawa, co-hosted by the Canadian and Ontario governments.

More to come