Frontline workers meet to find new strategies to combat B.C.'s opioid crisis

The conference brings together personnel from a variety of backgrounds, including people who use drugs, government workers, public health employees and law enforcement.

'I can't think of anything that would make the situation worse for people'

B.C. advocates are meeting today to come up with strategies to fight the province's opioid overdose crisis. (Lethbridge Police Service)

Medical responders, law enforcement and those closely affected by the drug overdose crisis come together Friday to find solutions to the opioid crisis — a year after the B.C. Centre for Disease Control held the first such conference, dubbed the Overdose Action Exchange.

Last April, B.C. declared a public health emergency in response to the growing number of drug overdose deaths.

The crisis claimed an unprecedented 922 lives in B.C. in 2016, and the situation isn't getting any better.

This past April, 136 people died from an overdose in B.C. — a 97 per cent increase from the same month last year.

Dr. Mark Tyndall, the executive director of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, will take part in today's one-day conference.

Tyndall says the first conference brought together different front-line workers — used to working in their own silos — to come up with a more comprehensive, coordinated response.

This year's objective, he says, is to come up with new strategies.

"The real message for the group meeting today is we'd like to come out with a number of brand new options and interventions," he said.

"I can't think of anything that would make the situation worse for people."

Tyndall said what has worked so far has been getting people on substitution treatments like suboxone and methodone.

"The other approach is to get people safer drugs," he said, referring to the Crosstown heroin program which serves 120 people.

"That is a program that could be scaled up but if you understand 20,000 overdosed last year and about a 1,000 died, that clearly getting enough people on that program is not going to happen."

The day-long conference will focus on eight key questions around drug supply, stigma and addictions treatment.

With files from The Early Edition