By Bridgette Watson / CBC 

People on the front lines of the opioid crisis have long said creating a supply of clean drugs and removing the criminal element will cut down on the number of people dying of overdoses in British Columbia.

Over 4,500 people have died from drug overdoses in B.C. since 2016, the year the province declared a public health emergency, and coroners reports show fentanyl was involved in approximately 85 per cent of those deaths.

As the body count mounts, the calls from health-care workers, addiction specialists and politicians for decriminalization and a safe drug supply are getting louder.

Last month, the B.C. Nurse Practitioner Association and the Harm Reduction Nurses Association, representing thousands of nurses, called on the province to decriminalize drugs. This month, the City of Vancouver released a video calling for a regulated safe supply. On Wednesday, addiction medicine physician Derek Chang published an op-ed calling on Canadians to make decriminalization a federal election issue.

Melissa Nicholson, a clinical nurse educator at Providence Health Care's Urban Health Program, said the overdose prevention site at Vancouver's St. Paul's Hospital has had 12,400 visits since it opened in May 2018. She said the opioid epidemic is so bad because of the abundance of contaminated street drugs.

"I think a lot of people would advocate that a regulated drug supply is really what we need to be seeing," she said, adding that frontline workers do not have anything but band-aid tools to help addicts for the time being.