Joint task force mobilized to scale up overdose response

British Columbia is experiencing an unprecedented rise in overdoses.

Packages of fentanyl seized by Calgary Police.

Packages of fentanyl seized by Calgary Police.

British Columbia is experiencing an unprecedented rise in overdoses.

In response to this, Premier Christy Clark announced today a newly formed Joint Task Force on Overdose Response headed by provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall and Clayton Pecknold, director of police services. Other members are still being determined but will include representatives from BC Centre of Disease Control and the ministries of Health and Public Safety.

British Columbia has taken decisive action to address the overdose situation. Dr. Kendall declared a public health emergency in April 2016. Since that time, Dr. Kendall and chief medical health officers have been working with health authorities, emergency room staff, first responders and the BC Coroners Service to improve the sharing of data between organizations.

The new task force will provide expert leadership and advice to the Province on additional actions to prevent and respond to overdoses in British Columbia. It will work closely with the BC Drug Overdose and Alert Partnership and senior police officials to build and strengthen the actions already in place to prevent drug overdoses.

Government supports a strengthened partnership with the federal government to make progress on measures under federal jurisdiction. As part of this, the Province will take action to work with the federal government on the establishment of additional supervised consumption sites in B.C., restricting access to pill presses and tableting machines, limiting access to the materials used to manufacture fentanyl and escalating charges for the importation and trafficking of fentanyl.

B.C. will also request that Canada Border Services Agency has the right tools to keep illicit opioids from reaching B.C. streets.

In addition, the task force will work with partners to establish a testing service to help people find out if their drugs contain adulterants, including fentanyl. It will help facilitate a social marketing campaign to increase public awareness on how to prevent, identify and respond to overdoses. The task force will also work with partners to expand the range of medications available, the accessibility of the opioid substitution treatment program and access to substance-use recovery programs for those who wish to stop using drugs.

B.C. has been leading the country in responding to the growing number of opioid overdoses and was the first province in Canada to establish a provincewide take-home naloxone program. Naloxone is a safe medication that can reverse the effects of an overdose of an opioid drug, such as heroin, morphine, fentanyl or oxycodone. Training and take home naloxone kits are available at more than 260 sites across B.C. Since its launch, the Take Home Naloxone program has shown effectiveness at saving lives with more than 700 opioid drug overdose reversals.

More than 10,000 naloxone kits have been distributed to people who use opioids and more than 9,700 people have been trained to administer naloxone, including people who use opioids, their friends and family and service providers.

Recently, the federal government also approved naloxone nasal spray kits for sale in Canada and government is working with Health Canada and provincial partners to introduce this product in B.C. as soon as possible.

The Province has recently funded specialized training for first responders responding to calls that require them to deal with fentanyl.

Police leaders and drug experts have been delivering workshops focused on helping investigators to get fentanyl and other deadly drugs off B.C.’s streets.

In addition, on July 1, 2016, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC made changes to prescribing requirements, making it easier for doctors to prescribe Suboxone to treat opioid addiction. The college has also recently adopted new professional standards to help doctors prescribe opioids more safely.

Premier Christy Clark – “While we are leading the country in addressing this issue, families are still losing loved ones to senseless and tragic drug overdoses. This task force will help the Province take the additional steps needed to get drugs like fentanyl off the street, get people the treatment they need and keep families healthy and safe.”

Health Minister Terry Lake – “It is extremely upsetting to see the alarming surge in overdoses we are seeing across the province. This new task force brings a multifaceted approach to tackle the crisis from both a policing and a health perspective and supports a stronger partnership with our federal government.”

Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Morris – “Due to the elevated overdose rates we are now seeing, it is critical that we further develop strategies to facilitate a rapid and safe medical response to drug overdoses. Police in B.C. have been responding to the issue of fentanyl on a number of fronts with front-line police working directly with individuals engaged in high levels of substance abuse, as well as new or casual users, on a daily basis. Officers work with outreach teams and service providers to educate individuals on the overdose prevention strategies provided by health care professionals.”

Provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall – “An effective collaboration with the federal government could really have major impact on reducing overdose deaths. As well, this joint task force integrates the strategies already underway and amplifies our response to this urgent crisis.”