A new overdose response task force has been created by the B.C. government as officials step up their attempts to reduce the surge in deaths from illicit drug use.
Provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall and director of police services Clayton Pecknold will head the task force, which is to provide expert leadership and advice to the province on what more can be done.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark is also urging the federal government to take action.
“While we are leading the country in addressing this issue, families are still losing loved ones to senseless and tragic drug overdoses,” she said.
The province wants Ottawa to make it easier to quickly create new supervised consumption sites in B.C.
Clark is also urging the federal government to restrict access to pill presses and tableting machines, which currently are legal to possess.
B.C. also wants the feds to tighten control of precursor materials to make fentanyl, create escalating charges for importing and trafficking the often-deadly synthetic opioid, and ensure Canada Border Services Agency has the right tools to detect incoming fentanyl.
Health Minster Terry Lake said fentanyl can be ordered over the internet and delivered by mail in small packages under 30 grams that the CBSA is powerless to open.
“Because this is such a powerful drug, it doesn’t take very much in order to make the pills that we see on the street today,” he said.
Packages of fentanyl seized by Calgary Police.
Fentanyl is much more powerful than heroin and is believed to be arriving from Asia, usually in powdered form before being pressed into pills here. Users often believe they are taking something else, such as oxycontin, ecstasy or cocaine that turn out to be laced with more potent fentanyl.
A testing service is to be set up to help people find out if their drugs are contaminated with unexpected substances, such as fentanyl.
There were 371 drug overdose deaths in the first half of the year, a dramatic increase that prompted the declaration of a public health emergency earlier this spring. About 60 per cent of the deaths have been tied to fentanyl.
Provincial partners have been actively distributing take-home naloxone kits that can be used to reverse an overdose – more than 10,000 of the kits have been distributed so far in B.C.
As of July 1, it’s become easier for doctors to prescribe Suboxone to treat opioid addiction.
Fraser Health earlier this month said it would identify priority locations for new supervised injection or consumption sites in Surrey and potentially other drug-troubled urban areas in the region, and work with local municipalities to secure support.
A report from a recent meeting on potential overdose responses released by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control says expansion of supervised sites beyond Vancouver is “urgent” in view of the overdose epidemic and federal legislation created by the former Conservative federal government that encumbers the process of permitting new sites is a “significant barrier to rapid expansion of these services.”
Participants at the overdose response meeting recommended creating mobile sites as well as safe consumption rooms at every homeless shelter.
There are so far no supervised drug use sites in the Fraser Health region.
There have been more overdose deaths in Fraser – 114 in the first six months of the year – than any other region of the province, and Fraser also accounts for the most fentanyl-linked deaths so far this year.