Opinion: New government can take immediate steps to address province’s drug crisis

published on June 16, 2017 by Evan Wood in Vancouver Sun

Ambulances criss-cross urban areas responding to overdose calls. City morgues are unable to accommodate the number of citizens lost to toxic drugs. A prominent journalist who covers the gangsters in control of the lucrative illicit drug trade is threatened with death.

While this description might sound like a lawless Latin American failed state, this is the current reality in B.C. The province’s new government has an urgent task ahead.

As director of the province’s new B.C. Centre on Substance Use, I’ve been honoured to work with some of the province’s brightest and most dedicated in helping to craft the initial response to the current crisis. I have no doubt the death toll would be much higher if emergency actions undertaken to date had not been implemented, including the widespread distribution of the overdose-reversal drug naloxone alongside a range of other efforts.

However, the death toll continues to rise at an unfathomable pace. Each monthly report on new deaths to overdose makes it abundantly clear: the new government must be willing act in a manner consistent with the scale of the crisis. In this context, there are a number of concrete steps that must be pursued in order to address the structural reasons for the province’s longstanding drug crisis.

First, an addiction treatment system urgently needs to be developed. The absence of an existing system is explained by the longstanding lack of governance and accountability for creating a functioning substance use system of care. Even the most basic elements, such as data on rates of disease and treatment capacity, are largely non-existent. The system has been without functioning governance for so long that even in 2017, in the midst of the crisis, Vancouver Coastal Health provides withdrawal management services in the city’s old animal shelter. Recovery from addiction is possible, but only if a functioning treatment and recovery system is developed.

View the full article