Nanaimo will be one of the first communities in the province to get a community action team and dollars to tackle the overdose crisis, the B.C. Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions announced Thursday.
Nanaimo and 17 other B.C. communities will form community action teams and receive up to $100,000 from the province to do their work.
During a press conference Feb. 1, Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy called the teams “boots on the ground” and said they will play a vital role in targeting resources where they are needed most in communities hardest hit.
The teams will be tasked with expanding harm-reduction services, increasing the availability of naloxone, addressing an unsafe drug supply and proactively connecting people with support service for treatment and recovery, and will be made up of a variety of local representatives such as first responders, municipal government, indigenous partners and people and families with personal experience.
The groups will also work with regional response teams and the province’s overdose emergency response centre.
“We are taking an all-of-government and all-of-province approach to the overdose crisis and this means bringing together key partners across the community,” said Darcy, who noted teams will also work with local ministry offices, such as those dealing with poverty reduction, housing and homelessness. “This is a public health emergency, we are treating it that way with bold and innovative action and we are focusing on the ground in communities to fight this crisis to make sure those resources are invested in such a way that they hit the mark.”
More than 1,400 people died of illicit drug overdose deaths last year, according to the B.C. Coroners Service. Fifty-one people died of illicit drug overdoses in Nanaimo, more than any other year in the past decade. In 2016, 29 people died.
The city has an overdose prevention and management working group, made up of service agencies, RCMP, B.C. Coroners Service and health and educational professionals that have been tackling the overdose crisis.
“We want to work with them and we want to support them because in most cases in the communities that I visited they have pulled together working groups as here in Abbotsford without additional resources from the province to do it,” Darcy said. “There is some very good work that’s happening in Nanaimo, but they were very keen when I met with them a few months ago … they said we’re doing this off the side of our desks, we need more support, we need you to be there, we need more boots on the ground, we need better co-ordination, so they certainly asked for more support from the province.”
Medical health officer Dr. Paul Hasselback, who sits on the Nanaimo overdose working group, wasn’t available for comment, but according to Dr. Charmaine Enns, Island Health medical health officer for the North Island, overdose working groups in the communities that are named in the province’s announcement will transition into community action teams and will need to develop action plans.
Overdose working groups started because something needed to be done in communities, it’s been in good faith, ad hoc and everyone has tried to do their best, said Enns, who pointed out there’s been no funding or structure. The province’s recent announcement of resources provides a lot more momentum and support around efforts where it was lacking before, said Enns, who told the News Bulletin she’s happy there’s more shape and form around the response.
While Enns said the funding, of up to $100,000 in each community, is probably not enough, she also called it the money to get everyone started and understands more is targeted for efforts going forward.
“The whole overdose crisis and why we’re having to do this is completely heartbreaking that after two years into this crisis, in spite of everyone’s efforts and how hard so many people have worked, that we’re still seeing increasing amounts of fatalities,” she said. “We need to do something different, we need to put more effort and resources into it, so this is all very good news from my perspective and I really welcome the opportunity to engage in this.”
The province said in a press release that other action teams will be added to communities as needed and there will be another $1.5 million in the budget for community crisis response grants.