Health Minister Terry Lake has taken an extraordinary measure to respond to the overdose crisis by enacting a ministerial order under the Health Emergency Services Act and Health Authorities Act to support the development of overdose prevention sites.
The minister has the authority to take such measures in the face of a public health emergency. The order was enacted on the advice of provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall, and will last for the duration of the public health emergency which was declared on April 14, 2016.
The alarming rate of overdoses combined with the onset of colder weather prompted urgent action.
“Despite considerable efforts to reduce the number of overdose deaths in B.C., too many people continue to succumb. With the recent spike in 911 calls and the cold weather, we knew we needed to act fast to keep people safe,” said Lake. “These overdose prevention sites will help make sure that people have access to people trained to respond should an overdose occur.”
On Dec. 8, 2016, Lake announced these additional health-care supports to be established in partnership with health authorities and community partners. A number of overdose prevention sites are opening in December in locations with high numbers of overdose, including Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Victoria, Surrey and Prince George.
The order gives BC Emergency Health Services and regional health authorities the ability to provide overdose prevention services as necessary on an emergency basis. It is the responsibility of each individual health authority to assess the need in their region and provide such emergency services in a manner consistent with federal legislation.
In addition to the overdose prevention sites, the Province – working with Vancouver Coastal Health, the City of Vancouver and the Provincial Health Services Authority – will be stationing its Mobile Medical Unit in the Downtown Eastside as of Dec. 13, 2016. The MMU is is a state-of-the-art mobile medical facility that can be used in emergency situations. Emergency physicians and nurses will be on-site to provide rapid intervention when an overdose occurs, preventing catastrophic brain injury and death.
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.
The overdose prevention sites are one of the provincial government’s latest steps in response to the opioid overdose crisis. 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 is committed to meeting 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 BC 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 BC Coroners Service statistics on fentanyl-detected illicit drug overdose deaths, please visit: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/death-investigation/statistical/fentanyl-detected-overdose.pdf