Sunday, June 23, 2024

‘This is unacceptable’: BC’s ongoing overdose crisis prompts long list of recommendations


Just last week, 18-year-old Kylie Walker of Victoria died of drug poisoning and five of her friends suffered overdoses from a toxic drug supply.

Walker died of an accidental drug poisoning on Thursday, October 27th.

On Tuesday, a health committee released a report with 37 recommendations aimed at “saving lives and moving British Columbia out of the current public health emergency.”

The recommendations were made by the Select Standing Committee (SSC) on Health.

In April, the BC Legislative Assembly decided it would be up to the SSC to make recommendations on how to deal with the illicit, toxic drug supply and overdoses. 

In particular they were to closely examine the increasingly toxic illicit drug supply and the systems and services in place to guide government responses to illicit drug supplies and toxicity deaths and injuries.

To achieve this, the committee examined all relevant and recent reports, studies and examinations as they deemed appropriate.

“The poisoned drug supply is taking the lives of our loved ones, with a disproportionate impact on Indigenous people,” said Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Sheila Malcolmson. 

“This is unacceptable. We must end this tragic loss of life.”

“The committee’s report and recommendations reinforce our government’s continued action to expand and build new supports and services throughout the province.” 

“As the illicit drug supply gets increasingly more toxic, we face a rising tide of need in British Columbia. There is more to do to tackle this public-health emergency.” 

“We will not stop working until we turn this crisis around and people in our province can get the help they need.”

The report was not very well received by the Green Party of BC though. They believed it to be too timid. 

“Today’s report is a reflection of the political landscape of this Assembly,” said Sonia Furstenau, Leader of the BC Greens and MLA for Cowichan Valley.  

“In terms of recognizing the role of safe supply to stabilize this situation, the recommendations of this report do not go as far as I’d hoped.“ 

As of this publication, more than 10,000 British Columbians have died from illicit, toxic drugs in the last six years according to the BC Coroners Office. 

People continue to die at a rate of about six lives lost a day to this issue.

In total the SSC made 37 recommendations. In short, the areas of which they see needs work are:

  • Overarching government response
    • Rapidly scale up supports and comprehensive care
    • Health authorities expanding harm reduction, treatment and recovery
    • Integrate people who use or have used drugs in the creation and implementation of any new legislation surrounding drug use
  • Prevention and education
    • Increase funding for awareness and anti-stigma initiatives
    • Increase funding for affordable and accessible housing for individuals at all stages of substance abuse
    • Fund supportive housing initiatives and community supports
    • Create evidence-based guidelines on prescribing opioids
  • Treatment and recovery
    • Fund more public outpatient recovery programs
    • Create legislation that will give framework to the province in regard to all-encompassing treatment
    • Create a provincial system to analyze and publish data based on recovery strategy and effectiveness
    • Make methadone and other opioid agonist treatment more readily available province-wide
    • Review and update policy regarding opioid agonist treatment
    • Include public input in comprehensive reviews of the Mental Health Act within six months of this report’s release
    • Work with all levels of government to ensure recovery will not affect an individual’s immigration status
  • Harm reduction
    • Implement province-wide standardization of harm reduction services
    • Make naloxone kits readily accessible, focusing distribution on high-risk populations
  • Safer supply
    • Fund measures to make sure a prescribed safe supply is available in all areas of the province
    • Review and update policies surrounding prescribed safer supply
  • Enforcement and decriminalization
    • Prioritize modernization of policing in BC, especially surrounding mental health and social matters
    • Work will all levels of government to stop the supply of illicit, toxic drugs being imported to the country
    • Support and implement decriminalization
  • Indigenous people
    • Create Indigenous-led, culturally appropriate services surrounding substance use
    • Prioritize work with BC First Nations Justice Council to reduce the number of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system
    • Use recommendations from previous reports for government action on reducing stigma and racism towards Indigenous people, especially Indigenous women
  • Youth
    • Expand in-school prevention and education programs
    • Fund access to mental health and substance abuse supports for youths
    • Fund and provide timely evaluations of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other neurodiverse conditions
  • Additional measures
    • Provide sustainable multi-year funding to groups in the mental health and substance abuse fields
    • Improve deployment of first responders to mental health and substance abuse crises
    • Fund positions for new health care and social services workers
    • Fund personnel for emergency rooms to provide referrals for harm reduction supplies
    • Expand supports for families grieving the loss of a family member who dies of a drug poisoning
    • Expand access to harm reduction for those coming out of the provincial correctional system

“There is no one-size-fits-all response to this crisis. The committee wants to see significant investments across the entire continuum of care – from prevention and education to treatment and recovery – as well as ongoing evaluation and monitoring to ensure results are achieved,” said Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond, who is also the deputy chair of the committee. 

For the full report, click here.

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