VICTORIA -- A mothers' group in British Columbia is demanding the ongoing opioid crisis become a key issue in the October provincial election.

Moms Stop the Harm is a group of women who have suffered the loss or harm of a loved one to substance abuse. It has been working to bring attention to what some call the second epidemic in the province and is calling for the decriminalization of drug use and possession.

“We are at the highest rate of overdose deaths since 2016 and there’s no end insight,” says Jenny Howard, a Moms Stops the Harm advocate.

Howard lost her 24-year-old son Robbie in 2016 to an overdose.

“He hid his drug use, as many people do,” says Howard. “He was afraid to reach out for support because of the stigmas associated with drug use.”

The BC Coroners Service released its statistics for suspected drug overdose deaths for the month of August on Wednesday, which showed that 147 people died of toxic drug use, an average of 4.7 a day.

A public health emergency for opioid overdoses was declared in April 2016 with over 5,000 deaths since then.

“Decriminalization is an important step in addressing the crisis, it redirects badly needed health-care supports to the recovery and treatment of those who struggle,” says Howard.

Decriminalization has the support of the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. NDP Leader John Horgan also expressed his support for the change to Ottawa. 

In April 2019, Henry recommended two ways the province could move towards decriminalization in her "Stopping the Harm" report, though the province did not follow either recommendation.

The death toll has been rising for the last three months in B.C., an increase partially attributed to the onset of the novel coronavirus.

As people have isolated themselves to stop the spread of COVID-19, they have been using alone, which advocates say has led to more deaths.

COVID-19 has also interrupted the supply of street drugs from manufacturers in countries including the U.S., Mexico and China, meaning local dealers are making their own product, officials have said. This can result in changes to potency, meaning users may not know what dose they're taking.

“This is import to me," says Howard. "As a parent I really don’t want another mother receiving the call that I did."

Moms Stop the Harm is planning to bring attention to the cause by rallying outside the Ministry of Health building at 1515 Blanshard St. in Victoria on Friday afternoon.