The stories of people taken by the overdose crisis come from every corner of the province. A forestry worker in the North who became addicted to painkillers for a workplace injury and then turned to street drugs. Friends celebrating after a wedding in the Interior. Suburban parents who left behind young children. Middle-aged men who were clean and sober for years.
We are in the most serious public health emergency this province has faced in decades. There is no limit to the suffering it has caused, with more than 1,700 families coping with the death of a loved one from overdose since January 2016.
We often hear about the devastating toll in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. But the crisis also affects people in the North, on Vancouver Island, in the Interior and in the Fraser Valley. It affects people from every type of family. Those living with poverty and homelessness. Those in suburban families and in rural communities. People who use drugs occasionally and those who are addicted.
As the new minister of Mental Health and Addictions, my first priority is to save lives immediately in the face of the overdose crisis. To get there and to build solutions, I am getting out and talking to people on the front lines of the crisis. I want to hear what’s working and what more is needed.
In my first days on the job, I visited the Downtown Eastside and Surrey, and I plan to visit other areas of the province in the coming weeks. I have heard deeply personal stories from everyday people struggling with addiction.
It is for these people who are suffering all around the province and their families that we need to build a more seamless, continuous system for mental health and addictions.
I had the privilege to meet with first responders, health providers, staff and volunteers working in community agencies on the frontlines of this crisis. They give their heart and soul every day to improve services and save lives – and they have saved countless lives. For that, I thank them.
But we know the system overall is fragmented and uncoordinated, and people wait far too long for the treatment they need.
If you break your leg, you know where to go to get the help you need quickly. However, we don't have that same system if you are suffering from mental health issues or addictions – even though hundreds of thousands of British Columbians are suffering from such illnesses. We need a more effective system that focuses on prevention, early intervention, treatment and recovery – a system where you ask for help once, and get help fast.
We also need to look at underlying issues like stigma, poverty, homelessness and housing, and to work with First Nations leaders on the unique issues faced by Indigenous people who are so disproportionately affected by the overdose crisis.
We are working closely and collaboratively with partners and stakeholders, provincial ministries and all levels of government on both immediate and longer-term solutions. We have a whole lot more lives we need to save, and we’re getting to work to do just that.