Five Vancouver Island communities will be among the first in the province to get a community action team and dollars to tackle the overdose crisis, the B.C. Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions announced today.
Nanaimo, Duncan, Port Alberni, Campbell River, Victoria and 13 other B.C. communities will form community action teams and receive up to $100,000 from the province to do their work.
During a press conference Feb. 1, Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy called the teams “boots on the ground” and said they will play a vital role in targeting resources where they are needed most in communities hardest hit.
Teams are tasked with expanding harm-reduction services, increasing the availability of naloxone, addressing an unsafe drug supply and proactively connecting people with support service for treatment and recovery, and will be made up of a variety of local representatives such as first responders, municipal government, indigenous partners and people and families with personal experience.
The groups will work with regional response teams and the province’s overdose emergency response centre.
“We are taking an all-of-government and all-of-province approach to the overdose crisis and this means bringing together key partners across the community,” said Darcy, who noted teams will also work with local ministry offices, such as those dealing with poverty reduction, housing and homelessness. “This is a public health emergency, we are treating it that way with bold and innovative action and we are focusing on the ground in communities to fight this crisis to make sure those resources are invested in such a way that they hit the mark.”
More than 1,400 people died of illicit drug overdose deaths last year, according to the B.C. Coroners Service. Fifty-one people died of illicit drug overdoses in Nanaimo, more than any other year in the past decade. Twenty-nine people died of drug overdoses in 2016.
A Nanaimo Overdose Prevention and Management Working Group, made up of service agencies, RCMP, B.C. Coroners Service and health and educational professionals, has been working to address the overdose issue in this city.
“We want to work with them and we want to support them because in most cases in the communities that I visited they have pulled together working groups as here in Abbotsford without additional resources from the province to do it,” Darcy said. “There is some very good work that’s happening in Nanaimo, but they were very keen when I met with them a few months ago … they said we’re doing this off the side of our desks, we need more support, we need you to be there, we need more boots on the ground, we need better co-ordination, so they certainly asked for more support from the province.”
The province said in a press release that other action teams will be added to communities as needed and there will be another $1.5 million in the budget for community crisis response grants.
Dr. Charmaine Enns, medical health officer with Island Health, has not yet been reached for comment.