With files from Simi Sara.
B.C.’s Premier is announcing a joint task force to combat the unprecedented surge in drug overdose deaths.
Christy Clark says the new task force – made up of health officials, and law enforcement, will provide leadership and advice to respond to and prevent future overdoses.
But, the Premier also is calling on the Federal Government to do more.
“And today, we’re taking another step. We’re asking the Federal Government to restrict access to pill presses. To restrict access to tableting machines. To pursue stronger penalties; escalated charges on those who import and traffic fentanyl.”
“That scope is alarming, it’s frightening, and it’s something that all of us should be concerned about.”
Calling on Border Services Agency to do its part
She also wants the Canada Border Services Agency to inspect more small packages for fentanyl.
“They can so they should, it’s a public health emergency, 370 plus people have died just in the first six months alone.”
Health Minister Terry Lake says the feds have the power to do more.
“If this was SARS or Ebola, Health Canada and border security and immigration would all be focused on this as a health issue that is essentially like a pandemic. This is an emergency health situation, so if it was any other public health emergency, I’m sure that they would bring those resources to the table.”
The task force will be headed by Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, and Clayton Pecknold, the director of police services.
Other members are still being decided on.
The Province can confirm they will include people from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, and the Ministries of Health and Public Safety.
Premier supports expansion of safe injection sites
Clark says she supports the expansion of supervised injection sites in the province.
“We have led in rather than thinking about addiction as just a criminal issue, we’ve thought about it as a health issue. Helping people heal and recover and find their way back into society.”
Vancouver Coastal Health is applying to open five more injection sites by the spring, while the Fraser Health Authority explores appropriate locations in the Fraser Valley.
However, Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner has said she’s opposed to stand-alone injection sites in her city.
BC Overdose Action Exchange identifies 12 key actions
After the Premier’s announcement, Simi Sara spoke with Dr. Mark Tindall, the Executive Director with BC Centre for Disease Control, which just released a report with 12 key actions needed – as identified by the BC Overdose Action Exchange.
Included in the key actions:
- Enhance surveillance/data collection to better track and respond to overdoses;
- Expand availability of naloxone to reverse overdoses;
- Increase supervised consumption service capacity across the province;
- Develop capacity for checking of street drugs;
- Expand access to opioid substitution treatments like Suboxone and methadone;
- Launch a targeted provincial public awareness campaign.
LISTEN to the interview with Dr. Mark Tindall:
700 overdose death predicted in BC for 2016
Tindall says the province is on track this year to reach over 700 overdose deaths, which makes it a major cause death for the province. He says for every person who dies, they estimate there are 50 others who have had a close call.
“So it’s a major problem”
He says they need to scale up the things they’re already doing, especially in other regions of the province that are being impacted.
Part of that is identifying hot spots where they need more intervention, which is currently underway.
As for checking street drugs, Tindall says there’s emerging technology that can check what’s in drugs.
“There’s still some glitches in how efficient some of these methods are, but we’re really trying to explore any avenue where we can have rapid identification of what people are using.”
He says they’d have to set up special places that are protected from law enforcement, something they’re trying at Insite right now.
“At Insite it’s not problem because we’ve gone through all the regulations to exempt that area from having people charged with drug possession, but outside of Insite its difficult to do that.”
He says while the overdose epidemic and high numbers are startling right now, says Tindall, overdose are not a new things for the province, which is a leader in the country when it comes to harm reduction strategies.
“Welfare Wednesday” associated with drug overdose spikes
Amid a sudden spike in overdoses on Surrey’s notorious Whalley Strip, residents were told to leave as welfare day began this morning.
It’s a day that many residents and health workers have been dreading: When the welfare cheques are so often spent on the drugs which is now showing traces of fentanyl.
It’s also a day that the city of Surrey appears to have been getting ready for.
Whalley strip resident “Doug” volunteers with a naloxone kit to help overdoses and says city employees and police moved residents off the street this morning.
“Wherever people have gone, hopefully there is a kit with them, somewhere, but they could be anywhere, you know? A hot day like today, they are looking for shade.”
Meanwhile, Doug says he has used his kit to help overdose victims 52 times so far this year.
Lake says the overdoses associated with “Welfare Wednesday” is on their radar, adding since the public health emergency declaration in April, there is greater information sharing, which he claims is saving lives.
“You saw in Surrey a few weeks ago over 40 people were effected by overdoses but no one died because health authorities, first responders, organizations that work with street people and those who are known to use drugs, they all responded as soon as that information was available.”