By Simon Little for Global News

B.C.’s top doctor fought back tears Thursday as she responded to a record number of overdose fatalities in the province last month.

The B.C. Coroners Service reported 175 suspected overdose fatalities in June, the province’s highest-ever monthly death toll. COVID-19 is linked to 189 deaths in total in the province.

“We need to put as much time and effort and kindness and compassion into caring for people who use drugs as we have been successful in doing in responding to the COVID-19 crisis,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

Henry urged the federal government to end criminal penalties for people found in possession of small quantities of drugs, and renewed her call for access to “clean” drugs for people with addictions.

“I am calling again on the federal government to take this to heart, to take the advice of the chiefs of police who know that this is an important step … and there’s no more important time for us to do this than now,” said Henry