OD action teams on way

UPDATE: 1:24 p.m.

Vernon, Kelowna and Kamloops have been identified as communities hardest hit by the overdose crisis in this province.

With the death toll increasing daily in the fight against opiates, the province is taking a more proactive approach in the fight.

The province announced 18 communities will share one-time funding of $1.5 million to get "more boots on the ground."

"It will vary community by community," explained the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy. "There are criteria that will be developed that are very much about how many deaths there have been, how many overdoses there have been ... how many people are at risk."

The funding for the communities will go toward Community Action Teams (CAT) with a focus on expanding community-based harm-reduction services; increasing the availability of naloxone; addressing the unsafe drug supply through expanded drug-checking services and increasing connections to addiction-treatment medications; proactively supporting people at risk of overdose by intervening early to provide services like treatment and housing. 

"It is really about what is needed on the ground to save more lives and connect people to support services and to get people on a pathway to hope," said Darcy.

The Overdose Emergency Response Centre worked with Interior Health to identified Vernon, Kamloops and Kelowna as in need of urgent help.
"We did look into rates of death occurring in communities around the province, but that wasn't the only criteria," said Vancouver Coastal Health Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Patrica Daly. 

"We looked at where communities have already started some work and there was a willingness and desire to work on doing more. Where community action teams could get up and going, and where we knew there were interventions where we could make a difference." 

In addition to funding for community action teams in the communities identified, there is another $1.5 million that will be available through grants allocated over the weeks and months to come according to need in other communities as well as the communities already identified. 

Community action teams will initially be established in Vancouver, Richmond, Powell River, Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford, Maple Ridge, Chilliwack, Victoria, Campbell River, Nanaimo, Duncan, Port Alberni, Kelowna, Kamloops, Vernon, Prince George and Fort St. John.

Darcy said some communities have embraced harm reduction more than others, but the message she has heard from many of the communities hardest hit is clear.

"We need help with programs, services and resources. We also need help, advice and strategies to help communities come together and overcome the division that exists in some communities and combat the stigma."  

On top of the CAT program, the province is also working on lifting the stigma around addiction through a 'People who use drugs are real people. Get involved. Get informed. Get help' anti-stigma campaign.

The message will be featured on billboards and in print, radio and TV ads.

"This is all of us," said Darcy. "People who use drugs are real people."

ORIGINAL: 11:45 a.m.

Without exaggeration, it is the scourge of our times. 

Numbers released by the BC Coroners service demonstrate just how destructive the opiate crisis has become in our province. 

In 2017, more than 1,420 people died from illicit drug overdoses — a 43 per cent increase from 2016. And in 81 per cent of those deaths, fentanyl was detected. 

In the Interior Health region, 238 people died from an overdose in 2017 — In 2016 that number was 165 and in 2015 it was 63.

The province announced Kelowna, Kamloops and Vernon, along with 15 other communities hardest hit by the overdose crisis, will receive funding to support on-the-ground community action teams as part of government's "escalated response to the overdose crisis."

Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy started by thanking the first responders who are on the front line in this war on opiates.

"Thank you for your brave and thankless work. The government and the province are in your debt."

"Four people will die before this day is over," said Darcy "The human impact is unspeakable."

"This bold, new approach is vital as families in every corner of the province continue to lose their loved ones to overdoses. Each community action team will play a crucial role in targeting resources where they are needed most on the ground in their communities. This is critical to saving lives and connecting people to treatment and recovery.

The community action teams will focus on four areas to save lives and support people with addictions on what the province calls a "pathway to treatment and recovery":

  • Expanding community-based harm-reduction services.
  • Increasing the availability of naloxone.
  • Addressing the unsafe drug supply through expanded drug-checking services and increasing connections to addiction-treatment medications.
  • Pro-actively supporting people at risk of overdose by intervening early to provide services like treatment and housing. 

These community action teams will include representation from municipal government; Indigenous partners; regional health authorities; first responders, including police, fire and ambulance; front-line community agencies; divisions of family practice (community-based groups of family physicians); people and families with personal experience; and local provincial ministry offices, including housing, children and family development, and poverty reduction services.

The 18 communities identified through the Overdose Emergency Response Centre's data as having the most urgent need.

The communities will receive up to $100,000 in one-time funding from the OERC Community Action Team Grants to drive this work forward.

The government has promised $3 million in dedicated funding is available through the Community Crisis Innovation Fund; $1.5 million from the OERC Community Action Team Grants.

Another $1.5 million will be available to all B.C. communities, through a Community Crisis Response Grants application process.

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