Canadian city approves tax to deal with opioid crisis

AP News
Posted: Dec 13, 2016 8:15 PM

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Vancouver's city council on Tuesday approved a small tax hike intended to help address the opioid overdose crisis.

The budget passed by the council includes a 0.5 percent increase in the property tax to support front-line service providers including firefighters who have been seeing multiple overdoses a day.

The city said in a release that firefighters responded to 745 calls about drug overdoses in November, and crews had to use the overdose-reversing drug naloxone 35 times.

The British Columbia Coroners Service recorded more than 620 fatal drug overdoses across the province from January through October, about 60 percent of them linked to the deadly opioid fentanyl.

"There are thousands of overdoses," councilwoman Andrea Reimer said. "There are hundreds of people dead."

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson called the need for funding urgent. The city wants matching funds from the provincial and federal governments.

The situation has reached a point where morgues are frequently full, forcing health authorities to put bodies at funeral homes.

Last month, fire Chief John McKearney said a surge of overdose reports has caused crews at the fire hall in Vancouver's drug-infested Downtown Eastside to make about 1,000 runs a month this year, compared with an average of 600 monthly calls in past years.

A memo sent to city council members by staff earlier this month said the 0.5-percent tax boost would raise $3.5 million (US$2.6 million).

The budget passed will see property taxes in Vancouver go up by a total of 3.9 percent in 2017.