Local governments key to addressing overdose epidemic

The drug-related public health emergency in BC requires local governments to play a key role in a concerted, coordinated prevention and response strategy, delegates learned at this afternoon’s plenary session.

The panel of health experts and local government leaders were united in their call for a four-pillar response approach, including increased public engagement, supervised consumption, surveillance, intervention and treatment.

Coordinated emergency response and supportive local government zoning and policies allowing supervised ingestion services, such as Insite in Vancouver, are some of the ways local governments can help. “The merits of harm reduction are not up for debate,” according to one presenter.

Dr. Perry Kendall, BC’s Public Health Officer, gave a high-level overview of BC’s response to the emergency, sharing grim fatality statistics.

Overdose deaths have risen month over month and year over year since 2007. Year-to-date in 2016, the province has seen a 62% increase in fentanyl detected overdose deaths. These deaths represent the tip of the opioid drug use epidemic, with Naxolone now being widely used by community members and first responders to help many people revive.

Health Minister Lake declared the provincial emergency in April, and in July an overdose response joint task force formed, bringing together health care authorities and law enforcement, including local police. The crisis is truly province-wide and, “no health authority in the province is exempt,” said Dr. Kendall.

Although we are facing an emergency, overdoses are not a new problem in BC, said Dr. Mark Tyndall of the BC Centre for Disease Control. The upstream social drivers of drug dependency—trauma, stigma, sexual abuse, poverty, homelessness, mental illness, incarceration—haven’t changed either, he said.

Many factors are aligning at higher levels to help address the overdose problem, but “none of this matters without community, municipal and local governments supporting action, said Dr. Tyndall. “Without this kind of support and action at your decision-making level, nothing gets done, he said.  “This room has the power to make things happen.”

Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang and Prince George councillor Murry Krause provided local examples of their communities efforts to get hold of the crisis.

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