Health Minister Terry Lake today made the following statement in recognition of National Addictions Awareness Week Nov. 13-19, 2016.
“Since January, we have lost 555 people to illicit drug overdoses in British Columbia alone, making the overdose crisis one of the most severe and tragic public health emergencies of our time.
“As we’ve seen, overdoses are happening to people from all walks of life. We’re working to prevent these deaths through improved access to naloxone, supervised consumption services, safer prescribing, opioid substitution treatments and treatment programs.
“We recognize a strong partnership with the federal government is essential to ending the crisis. This is at the top of our minds as we head into National Addictions Awareness Week and prepare for the upcoming federal summit on opioid overdoses, which will take place in Ottawa on Nov. 18 and 19.
“We will also honour our paramedics, fire fighters, police and RCMP who, as first responders, know all too well how overdoses are affecting the province. It’s alarming to think how much higher the number of deaths might be if not for quick-thinking professionals administering naloxone. While their jobs are not easy ones, few people have the ability to impact people’s lives on the scale they do.
“In recognition of this, we’ve recently made several regulatory changes so that any health-care professional can administer naloxone outside of a hospital setting. This is one of many actions we’ve taken since Premier Christy Clark formed the Joint Task Force on Overdose Response on July 27 and provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall and I declared a public health emergency on April 14.
“There is also a public awareness campaign underway; Vancouver Coastal Health has submitted applications to Health Canada for two additional supervised consumption sites; and a new Coroners Service Drug Death Investigation Team has been formed to identify any trends and patterns that will help inform preventative efforts.
“Those are some of the actions we are working on to make a difference right away. But, we also know we need to support research and education for treatment of substance use disorders. In September, Premier Clark announced $5 million in funding to support the establishment of the BC Centre on Substance Use. Located at St. Paul’s Hospital, the centre will position B.C. as a leader in evidenced-based addiction treatment.
“We’re also working on a cross-government strategy for mental health and substance use issues. As well, over 220 treatment beds have been opened throughout the province in the past two years. Health authorities will continue to open more beds in the coming months, and we will reach our goal of opening 500 additional new substance use beds in 2017.
“Moving forward, we’ll continue to work with our partners in the federal government to make progress on measures under federal jurisdiction. We are also working with the BC Drug Overdose and Alert Partnership to strengthen the actions already in place and with partners to expand the range of medications available, the accessibility of the opioid substitution treatment program and access to substance-use recovery programs for those who wish to stop using drugs.
“There is a lot going on in British Columbia to address the overdose crisis. Fortunately, the most recent Coroners Service numbers show we have been able to slow down the rate of increase in fatal drug overdoses – but the number is still far too high.
“We remain committed to working with our partners to strengthen our existing actions, support research and implement new strategies. Together, we will do everything we can to prevent future tragedies and stop the rise in overdoses.”