VICTORIA -- With more than 1,500 British Columbians dying from suspected drug overdoses in the first 11 months of 2020, two Saanich councillors have brought forth a motion that demands the federal government declare the opioid crisis a national health emergency.

The five-part motion from councillors Ned Taylor and Karen Harper also directs Saanich staff to begin discussions with local health authorities to see if there are ways the district could assist in addressing the opioid crisis.

“It’s taking lives on a daily basis and it’s affecting people who I know and it’s devastating for the families,” said Taylor. “I think that it needs action on all levels of government, and we need to be doing everything we can to be reducing overdoses and saving lives.”

One of the strategies that Taylor wants to pursue in Saanich is the opening of safe consumption sites.

“The reason we’ve put that forward is because, based on the evidence that’s available, we know that safe consumption sites are an effective way of reducing overdoses,” he said.

“We put that forward as one option to discuss with local health authorities because we know they reduce other harms associated with substance use.”

Taylor says the federal government needs to develop a Canada-wide action plan that specifically looks at what methods have worked in other countries in reducing opioid deaths.

“The overdose crisis has taken over 1,500 lives in 2020 in B.C., which is higher than the amount of deaths that have been caused due to COVID-19,” said Taylor. “The situation is worse than we have ever seen it before.”

Taylor says it is clear that the pandemic has contributed to the increase in overdose deaths. He says the opioid crisis is a pressing issue and it would be easy for Saanich to say it is a problem that should be dealt with by higher levels of government. However, he wants local governments to be prepared to take action as well.

“People are dying on a daily basis,” he said. “I want people to know that people who use drugs are people too, and they are people who need our help right now.”

Taylor goes on to say that governments have to be prepared to take new approaches, and to look at evidence to see what is effective in reducing drug use harms.

On Jan. 21, City of Victoria councillors voted unanimously to pass a similar motion. The motion directs Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps to also call on the federal health minister to declare a national health emergency. It also asks for the decriminalization of small amounts of street drugs.

Saanich council will vote on the motion brought forward by Taylor and Harper at the next council meeting on Jan. 25.

“Too many people are dying due to the overdose crisis and we can’t just sit back and wait for something to happen, we have to take action now,” said Taylor. “It’s clear new approaches are needed to help save lives.”