The Select Standing Committee on Health

Report on the Toxic Drug and Overdose Crisis

In July, The Federation shared with you, our members and partners, the presentation we made to the Select Standing Committee on Health during consultations on the urgent and ongoing illicit drug toxicity and overdose crisis in our province.

Last week, the committee released their report, Closing Gaps, Reducing Barriers: Expanding the Response to the Toxic Drug and Overdose Crisis. In creating the report, the committee received briefings from federal and provincial government ministries and agencies, health authorities, the BC Centre on Substance Use, the BC Centre for Disease Control, the BC Coroners Service, the First Nations Health Authority and others. The committee also heard from 118 presenters and received 881 written submissions.

Our presentation and submission attempted to make very clear (among other things) that framing this solely as a health issue—and having a health committee determine the recommendations—is a fundamental part of the problem. Our three recommendations were:

  1. Revisit and review A Pathway to Hope and invest in community-identified priority actions.
  2. Invest in community-led, multi-disciplinary outreach and intervention teams.
  3. Embrace and expand safe supply initiatives by whatever means necessary.

The report contains some good recommendations (e.g., targeted initiatives for youth in care) and includes our argument that “a more balanced system of care needs to include a full spectrum of services, including upstream services and interventions for children and young adults in addition to downstream services such as crisis intervention and long-term treatment beds” among its key principles.

29. Fund universal access to integrated mental health and substance use supports for children, youth, and young adults, including: increasing the number of specialized school counsellors; expanding Integrated Child & Youth (ICY) teams; implementing targeted initiatives for children and youth in care. (Link to report)

However, it is clear that the committee believes that the remedy to this issue will arrive through the healthcare system (and some legislative changes that have already been recommended by others elsewhere). Prevention and early intervention were, unfortunately, less of a focus in other sections of the report.

7. Fund and expand trauma-informed mental health care that is integrated into the primary health care system. (Link to report)

We had urged the committee to review, evaluate, and modify A Pathway to Hope. We believe (and we argued) that such long-term plans or strategies should be reviewed and re-evaluated at certain intervals. And revisiting A Pathway to Hope is an ongoing piece in our advocacy efforts, but this opportunity was not discussed or acknowledged in the report. (Though some committee members discussed the need for more defined goals, metrics on services and treatment, and greater accountability mechanisms as well as further clarity about whether the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions is ultimately accountable for delivering the government’s response.)

We also urged the committee to invest in community-led organizations. They heard multiple times that the work of community-led groups is hampered by a lack of sustainable funding and that there is a need for improved funding and support from the government. This was not only acknowledged but also included as a recommendation.

32. Provide sustainable, multi-year funding to community groups, including non-profits and community-led (drug user) groups, that includes accountability measures to support people-centred outcomes. (Link to report)

Ultimately, there are some good recommendations and positive directions, even though, in the words of one committee member, the major themes of the report simply reiterate recommendations that have been made repeatedly in the six years since a public health emergency was declared in BC. (You can read more reactions to the report here and here and here.)

Moving forward, The Federation will be working with our colleagues in the social care ministries to influence how the recommendations most closely aligned with the interests and expertise of our members are funded and implemented.

The Federation team is also developing an overall strategy to address the needs of our members regarding the programs they offer in partnership with the Ministry of Health. We will be reaching out to members in the coming months to begin gathering information and experiences to inform this work and identify risks, barriers, goals, and opportunities in their regions.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about this work, please feel free to reach out. Members are always welcome to connect with their thoughts, ideas, and concerns.

Michelle Bell, Director of Child, Youth and Family Advocacy