British Columbia

B.C. ministry moves to stem high rate of overdose deaths amongst recent inmates

British Columbia is launching a project aimed at reducing the number of overdose deaths amongst inmates recently released from correctional facilities.

A B.C. review panel revealed more than 300 people fatally overdosed in first month of prison release

Multiple hands are seen holding bars at a prison.
Quebec's superior court has certified a class-action lawsuit against the province's office of the attorney general, as well as the cities of Montreal and Quebec. (Shutterstock)

British Columbia is launching a project aimed at reducing the number of overdose deaths amongst inmates recently released from correctional facilities.

A coroner's death review panel last year found about two-thirds B.C. residents who died of an illegal drug overdose over a 19-month period had recent contact with the criminal justice system.

The panel said that between January 2016 and the end of July 2017, 333 people died within their first month of release from a correctional facility.

The Health Ministry says in a news release that five new community transition teams have been set up in Surrey, Prince George, Kamloops, Nanaimo, and Port Coquitlam to help people with opioid use disorders get treatment.

Each team consists of a social worker and a peer who has used drugs and may have also been incarcerated. The teams then work with former inmates to help provide the needed support.

Society's most vulnerable 

Lynn Pelletier, with B.C. Mental Health and Substance Use Services, says people in the justice system are some of society's most vulnerable, yet they are the hardest to reach in the current overdose emergency.

"Integrating correctional care with community-based care gives us an opportunity not just to prevent overdose, but also connect to health services and possibly change the trajectory of their lives by addressing some of the social and economic realities that brought them to us in the first place."

Dr. Nader Sharifi, medical director for Correctional Health Services, says about 40 per cent of people in corrections facilities are getting treatment for opioid use disorder.

He says people are at a heightened risk when they leave a facility and don't have access to a physician.

"There are barriers to continuing the treatment they start with us. Clients are facing stigma. They might have no income and no fixed address. It's not as easy as visiting the nearest doctor's office," he says in a news release.

The community transition teams began connecting with their first clients this month. The Provincial Health Services Authority says it hopes to scale up the project next year based on results of the service.