British Columbia

Province launches 'Overdose Emergency Response Centre' at VGH

The province is launching a new Overdose Emergency Response Centre that will be based at Vancouver General Hospital to combat the ongoing overdose crisis.

The centre will be staffed full time and will work with five regional centres

1,100 British Columbians have died due to suspected illicit drug overdoses in the first nine months of 2017. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The province is launching a new Overdose Emergency Response Centre to combat B.C.'s ongoing overdose crisis.

The centre, which will be based at Vancouver General Hospital, will include a core team of experts and full-time staff that will work with five new regional response teams.

"We are escalating our response, not just to prevent overdose deaths today, but to get at the very heart of the crisis so that no one has to lose another loved one," Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy said in a statement.

The province says the centre and the regional teams will focus on four priorities: to identify and support people at risk of overdose, address the unsafe drug supply, expand harm reduction services and increase the availability of naloxone.

Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, will serve as the centre's executive director and clinical lead for the new overdose centre.

She said the initiatives will be "driven by data, and based on needs in specific communities."

The five regional response teams are set to be in place by January 2018.

Consolidated effort

"We have many people who have been giving this their all for the last year and a half and we can't have them doing it off the side of their desks," said provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall, who declared the overdose crisis a public health emergency in 2016.

"This new approach will see dedicated staff working in a co-ordinated way on the ground to get help to people who need it the most."

He says the centre will bring together provincial, health authority, municipal, Indigenous and law enforcement resources.

First Nations Health Authority Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Evan Adams said the response must address the fact B.C.'s First Nations people are disproportionately impacted by the crisis.

"Increasing cultural safety in the province's response efforts is essential for First Nations and Aboriginal peoples to receive more effective health and social services," Adams said. 

Affected families speak out 

In the first nine months of 2017, 1,100 British Columbians died due to suspected illicit drug overdoses, with most happening in the days immediately following welfare payments.

The number of victims has already surpassed those who died in all of 2016.

John Hedican, who lives in Courtenay B.C. and lost his 26-year-old son Ryan to a fentanyl overdose, spoke on behalf on the thousands of families that have been affected.

"When your son has a disease associated with the words illegal and criminal, you soon realize you are alone with your son," he said.

Hedican said that Ryan was in recovery and had not used drugs for over eight months when he was found unresponsive at his workplace.

"Ryan was proud of his recovery and he was proud of who he was. He was not someone that wanted to die," he said.

"To prevent other families from going through the profound grief that we have, we believe this poisoning emergency needs proactive measures rather than just reactive, so that the services people need are there for them before it is too late."

The services and resources provided by the centre will come from $322 million in new funding that was announced by the province to address the overdose crisis in Sept. 2017.