Partnerships Responding to the Opioid Crisis

Delegates explored new partnerships that have been developed to respond to the challenges posed by the opioid crisis. These approaches focus on the need to eliminate the stigma associated with illicit drug use and addiction and the development of deeper understanding of addiction as primarily a health issue. 

Panelists also emphasized the importance of supporting those with addictions from treatment to the establishment of strong supports to prevent relapse.

Speakers from the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, the new Overdose Emergency Response Centre in Vancouver and the Vancouver Centre for Disease Control, Mental Health and Addictions described how a provincial, cross-ministry, collaborative approach evolved a new understanding of mental health and addiction, and crafted a new community-based model for addressing the mental health and substance use crisis.

Two media campaigns by the Ministry of Health illustrate this new understanding and approach. An early campaign used a fear-based approach to educate the public about the toxic arrival of fentanyl in the drug supply in 2016. A recent campaign altered the focus to change public perception of addicted populations by illustrating the diverse range of users and people at risk, beyond the stereotype of the Vancouver Downtown Eastside illegal substance user.

Sixty-four province-wide, inter-disciplinary action teams conducted research that identified four distinct user groups: recreational, occasional users; street-involved regular users; high functioning, hidden regular users; and First Nations users. This knowledge helped inform the more humanizing second campaign, and an understanding that different groups will require different approaches and supports.

The Overdose Emergency Response Centre that launched in Vancouver in late 2017 was designed to focus overdose emergency response in the ER with dedicated space for acute overdose risk case management, treatment and recovery. The Centre’s staff of medical professionals works collaboratively with family and survivors with lived experience of overdoses, and agencies responding to the crisis. The success of this approach led the province to announce a Community Action Team program in 2018.

Twenty Community Action Teams have been funded in high-overdose communities to build teams of municipal representatives, First Nations, affected families, health care and housing professionals, police and others. These teams identify local at-risk populations, reach out to offer information and resources and break the isolation surrounding users, and provide structured supports to enter and complete treatment, and to stay on long term, possibly life-long treatments such as suboxone and methadone.

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