‘They talk. We die.’
This was the stark message written across dozens of protest signs held aloft by drug users and their allies at the opening ceremony of Harm Reduction International’s 25th Conference in Montreal in May. The target for the message was Canadian Minister of Heath, Dr Jane Philpott, who was a keynote speaker at our event. With almost 2,500 recorded deaths in Canada in 2016 linked to overdose - afigure thought to be conservative given existing gaps in data - the protesters called on the Minister to declare a national public health emergency that would enable swift action to save lives. Indeed the Canadian overdose crisis is escalating in intensity, with estimates that the province of British Columbia alone might see 1,400 overdose deaths in 2017. Nationwide, overdose deaths have jumped 327% since 2008. With the memories and pain of lost friends and loved ones so close to the surface, the outpouring of grief, anger and demand for action at our conference opening was understandable, and set the tone for the following three days.