Northern Health has set up a harm reduction committee in Houston to address the issues exacerbated by the opioid crisis.
Last week Houston council designated councillor John Siebenga as the district’s primary liaison to the committee, and councillor Tim Anderson as the alternate. The committee’s first meeting, which was open to stakeholders, was held on Jan. 19, 2018.
According to Dr. Andrew Gray, medical health officer with Northern Health, the committee will seek local solutions to the overdose crisis.
“There’s a provincial strategy, and there’s the strategy that Northern Health has; our health teams in these communities evaluate the situation locally and in most cases set up a committee that look at what needs to be done there, and what priority actions are relevant there,” he explained.
“They’ll have conversations about addiction, substance use and overdose with partners sometimes outside of the local health system – that could include local government, RCMP, First Nations, pharmacies, schools, or any party that might be interested,” he continued.
“It’s about raising awareness of what’s going on with the opioid response,” he added.
Some of the health interventions the committee will be looking at include improving access to naloxone – a drug used to treat a narcotic overdose in an emergency situation – and increasing access to treatment for addictions. The committee will also be looking at overdose prevention, as well as increasing mental health support in the community.
Although the southern parts of B.C. are experiencing a more severe opioid crises, Dr. Gray says Northern Health has seen a significant increase in overdose deaths over the past decade.
“Ten years ago we might see five to 10 overdose deaths a year, and we saw about 50 overdose deaths in the region last year,” he said. “It’s a big increase and it’s definitely a concern.”
Last year, more than 1200 people died from illicit drug overdoses in B.C. just in the first 10 months.
Fentanyl continues to kill. The powerful painkiller was discovered in about one in five overdose deaths last year. According to the Canadian Border Security Agency, the amount of fentanyl seized in the first six months of 2017 is 70 per cent higher than the same period in 2016.
The B.C. government announced in October it was creating a multi-tiered overdose emergency response centre to better connect regional and local social workers, health authorities and other workers. The centre is made up of experts and full-time health staff at Vancouver General Hospital, with five regional teams implemented at each health authority.
– With files from Katya Slepian