In response to the increasing number of overdose-related deaths, the Province is opening additional health-care supports in partnership with health authorities and community partners, Health Minister Terry Lake announced today. Supports include stationing the BC Mobile Medical Unit and setting up overdose prevention sites at overdose hot spots.
“We are seeing an alarming increase in illicit drug overdose deaths and action is required at all levels to saves lives,” said Lake. “The overdose prevention sites will ensure that people have a place where they can be safely monitored and treated immediately if they overdose.”
The first two overdose prevention sites open today at VANDU (380 East Hastings Street) and Portland Hotel Society Washington Needle Depot (177 East Hastings Street) in Vancouver. Another two locations will open next week in Victoria at Our Place (919 Pandora Avenue) and Johnson Street Community (844 Johnson Street). The Pandora location will be for the public; the Johnson Street location will be for building residents only.
Additional sites will open this month, including two in Surrey next week – one at the Quibble Creek Sobering and Assessment Centre (13670 94A Avenue) and the other at a mobile medical support unit on 135A Street – as well as several more in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and another in Victoria’s Rock Bay area. The locations of all sites were identified as areas with high numbers of overdoses, as an immediate response while supervised consumption site applications are in development or awaiting approval. Teams of trained staff at these sites will provide people who use illicit drugs with a safe space to be monitored. Staff will be equipped with naloxone and appropriate training for overdose response.
“With the onset of colder weather, the increased risk of death and brain damage from a combination of overdose and hypothermia has challenged us to explore additional options for overdose prevention that do not breach the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act while we wait for Health Canada approval of supervised consumption services,” said Dr. Perry Kendall, provincial health officer. “As such, I have recommended that health authorities work to make oversight and reversal of overdose more available as an emergency strategy in locations where we know injections and overdose risk already exist.”
The Province, working with Vancouver Coastal Health, the City of Vancouver and Provincial Health Services Authority, also will be stationing its Mobile Medical Unit at 58 West Hastings Street in the Downtown Eastside. Starting Dec. 13, the Mobile Medical Unit will provide an alternative medical care unit for patients who overdose. It will create capacity in emergency departments such as St. Paul’s Hospital, which currently sees the majority of overdose patients in Vancouver, and allow paramedics to avoid waiting at the ER, freeing them up more quickly for the next 911 call. Emergency doctors and nurses will treat patients in the mobile unit, and addictions physicians will be available to connect patients with opioid addiction treatment.
“We are seeing unprecedented tragedy with the overdose crisis and it's putting extreme pressure on Vancouver first responders and front line workers. These new overdose prevention sites and mobile medic unit will help provide relief that is desperately needed,” said Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson.
“These sites are a result of a co-ordinated effort to support people who use drugs and reduce public drug use,” said Victoria mayor Lisa Helps. “By working together with community partners and health authorities, we were able to make these sites a reality in a short timeframe.”
All three health authorities continue their work to apply for permanent supervised consumption services, which will have supervision services integrated and embedded with other health and social services, including mental health and substance use services and referrals and peer support.
These overdose prevention sites are the provincial government’s latest steps in response to the opioid overdose crisis. In November 2016, the Province provided $5 million to BC Emergency Health Services to support paramedics and dispatchers, as that month saw the highest number of overdose-related 911 calls ever recorded.
In July 2016, Premier Christy Clark appointed a Joint Task Force on Overdose Response, headed by provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall and director of police services Clayton Pecknold. The task force is providing expert leadership and advice to the Province on additional actions to prevent and respond to overdoses in British Columbia. As part of the response, law enforcement is working at all levels of government to interdict the supply of toxic drugs, and health officials are working to address the immediate and longer-term health needs. To that end, B.C. is expanding access to life-saving naloxone, supervised consumption services, and opioid addiction treatment medications and services.
Under the task force, the Province launched a broad campaign to alert people of how to prevent, identify and respond to overdoses. It is also investing in research, education and training through the new B.C. Centre on Substance Use to make sure addiction treatment is effective and evidence-based. Ongoing work to support and treat British Columbians with substance use issues is also a key part of the province’s response. Government committed to meet the goal of opening 500 new substance use treatment beds in 2017. In the past two years, more than 220 new beds have been opened as part of this commitment to provide better access to appropriate substance use supports.
To learn more about additional government actions to reduce overdoses, please visit: https://news.gov.bc.ca/factsheets/actions-to-prevent-overdoses-in-bc
To learn more about the work of the Joint Task Force on Overdose Response, see the second progress report on B.C.’s Response to the Opioid Overdose Crisis, available at: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/health/about-bc-s-health-care-system/office-of-the-provincial-health-officer/current-health-topics
To learn more about Coroners Service statistics on illicit drug overdose deaths, please visit: www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/death-investigation/statistical/illicit-drug.pdf
To learn more about Coroners Service statistics on fentanyl-detected illicit drug overdose deaths, please visit: www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/death-investigation/statistical/fentanyl-detected-overdose.pdf