Province escalates overdose emergency response to save lives, support people with addictions

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The British Columbia government is launching a new Overdose Emergency Response Centre to combat the continuing crisis and spearhead urgent action to save lives, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy announced today.

“Every day, this overdose crisis is devastating families and communities,” said Darcy. “We are escalating our response, not just to prevent overdose deaths today, but to get at the very heart of the crisis so that no one has to lose another loved one.”

A core team of experts and full-time staff at the emergency response centre will bring together provincial, health authority, municipal, Indigenous and law enforcement resources to tackle the overdose crisis at a community level. To maximize local impact, the centre will work closely with five new regional response teams to co-ordinate and strengthen addiction and overdose prevention programs on the ground with local teams.

The provincial centre and regional teams will prioritize four essential interventions to save lives and support people with addictions on a pathway to treatment and recovery:

  • Proactively identifying and supporting people at risk of overdose – including screening for drug use by health-care providers, clinical followup for people at risk, fast-tracked pathways to treatment and care, and connection to social supports like housing.
  • Addressing the unsafe drug supply through wider access to drug checking and substitution drug treatment, such as Suboxone and hydromorphone.
  • Expanding community-based harm reduction services, such as supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites, and outreach and mobile programs that extend the reach of harm reduction services.
  • Increasing availability of naloxone at the community level, and those trained to use the life-saving treatment.

Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, will serve as the centre’s executive director and clinical lead for the Overdose Emergency Response Centre.

“We continue to see the tragic loss of life from overdoses across the province, and we need to intensify the response at all levels to turn this crisis around,” said Daly. “This escalated emergency response strategy draws together and co-ordinates many partners – at the community, regional and provincial levels – with a common determination to save lives.”

“Our 26-year-old son Ryan Hedican lost his life to a fentanyl poisoning, not an overdose,” said John Hedican, who lives in Courtenay. “To prevent other families from going through the profound grief that we have, we believe this poisoning emergency needs proactive measures rather than just reactive, so that the services people need are there for them before it is too late.”

The provincial emergency centre will closely track emerging trends and risk factors in the overdose crisis, with centralized data monitoring and analysis. From this information – and information on the ground – the centre will work with the regional teams and new community action teams in hard-hit communities to intervene quickly with life-saving responses, early intervention and proactive treatment and support. New community action teams will be in place by January 2018, in communities identified by overdose data as having most urgent need.

“First Nations are disproportionately impacted by this crisis and our collective response must address that. Increasing cultural safety in the Province’s response efforts is essential for First Nations and Aboriginal peoples to receive more effective health and social services,” said First Nations Health Authority chief medical officer Dr. Evan Adams. “We are encouraged by the new provincial overdose emergency response structure with its ‘Ask Once, Get Help Fast’ approach and look forward to working with our partners to ensure access to these services in all five health regions.”

“The commitment and dedication poured into the provincial response over the past 18 months has saved countless lives. But people continue to die in record numbers, and we need to do more,” said provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall, who declared the overdose crisis a public health emergency in 2016. “To date, most of those involved in the response have worked on it off the side of their desk. This new approach will see dedicated staff working in a co-ordinated way on the ground to get help to people who need it the most.”

The new emergency response structure has been created in close consultation with Health Emergency Management BC, based on best practices in emergency management.

As announced in September 2017, the provincial government is investing $322 million in new funding to address the overdose crisis. The emergency response centre will ensure those resources support effective strategies where they are most urgently needed. As part of this funding, the regional response teams and community action teams will have access to a Community Crisis Innovation Fund – which includes $3 million for the remainder of this year, and $6 million each year in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

Learn More:

Backgrounder – Provincial Overdose Emergency Response:

Terms of Reference – Overdose Emergency Response Centre:

Provincial Health Officer – Public Health Emergency:

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