Pubdate: Sat, 02 Dec 2017
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Times Colonist
Author: Lindsay Kines
Page: A5


The B.C. government stepped up its fight against the growing number of
drug overdose deaths Friday with the launch of a new emergency
response centre that will link to regional and community action teams
on Vancouver Island and elsewhere.

The emergency centre will have about 10 full- and part-time staff
based at Vancouver General Hospital and backed by a team of experts.

The centre will analyze data, spot trends and work with new regional
teams at Island Health and the other four health authorities to
improve front-line services.

"We're putting this emergency response centre in place to fuel urgent
local action and rapidly implement locally driven solutions on the
ground," said Judy Darcy, minister of mental health and addictions.

She said the response will place a high priority on: * speeding up
access to treatment, housing and other supports, * drug-checking and
drug-substitution treatment, * expanding harm-reduction services, and
* increasing the availability of naloxone, which reverses the effects
of opioid overdose.

The B.C. Coroners Service reported last month that 1,103 people had
died from drug overdoses from January through to the end of September
- - nearly twice as many as the 607 deaths in the same period in 2016.
In Victoria, 70 people died in the first nine months of 2017 - three
more than all of last year.

The increase has been linked to the powerful synthetic opioid
fentanyl, which was detected in 83 per cent of the deaths and, in most
cases, was mixed with cocaine, heroin or methamphetamines.

In addition to the emergency centre and regional teams, community
action teams will launch in January to provide help to those most at
risk of overdose in hard-hit communities, Darcy said.

Sonia Furstenau, health critic for the B.C. Green Party, praised Darcy
for listening to people in communities about how best to deal with the

"I think it's been a long time that we've talked about this crisis
that we're in with fentanyl and the opioid addictions, and we have to
start taking some bolder steps to start to deal with this," she said.

"So this to me is a good step. It's looking beyond just dealing with
the overdose crisis and it's starting to look at: 'How do we get out
in front of it? How do we start to provide help for people who are
struggling with addiction?' I like the idea that this is moving toward
treatment rather than reaction."

Furstenau said the regional and community action teams will be key to
the plan's success.

"Each community is going to have a different type of crisis that
they're dealing with and the solutions are going to be different," she

John and Jennifer Hedican said they were on their own in trying to get
their 26-year-old son, Ryan, help before he died in April from
fentanyl-laced heroin and they're hoping the centre will provide
others the resources he didn't get.

"Ryan asked for help many times before he was poisoned and our whole
family experienced the horrendous lack of support this disease
receives," John Hedican told the news conference.

Hedican said their son needed intervention numerous times as he went
into recovery and relapsed, but it was critical in January 2016 when
he needed housing after the family could no longer deal with his
substance use in their home.

Ryan Hedican was found unresponsive during a lunch break after
returning to work as a electrician, Hedican said of his son, adding
the stigma against people who use illicit drugs was another issue the
family had to battle.

Katrina Jensen, executive director of AIDS Vancouver Island, said it's
significant that the strategy includes a commitment to involve
front-line agencies as well as people who use drugs and their
families. "I think that's really the key to this escalated response,"
she said.

Jensen said expanded access to harmreduction services and treatment
will be important as well.

"You know, every week across Vancouver Island we have people accessing
our harm-reduction services who want help for their substance use and
we're hopeful through this announcement that we'll be able to provide
greater help for people," she said.

- - With a file from The Canadian Press
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