As Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Judy Darcy is leading the province’s response to the overdose crisis that is continuing to take three to four lives every single day in British Columbia. As a past CUPE National President, she understands the crisis is a national issue that affects our members personally and professionally.
1) How has the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions responded to the opioid crisis in B.C.?
The first thing we did when we took office in July 2017, was create a Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions—the first and only one in Canada. Our central focus is on saving lives and connecting people to treatment and recovery services where and when they need them.
Our response is based on a four pillars approach including harm reduction, treatment enforcement, and prevention.
Together with all the people on the front lines, we know that our work has averted 4,700 deaths over a two-year period. Scaling-up distribution of naloxone, increasing the number of overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites and improving access to medication-assisted treatment have all played significant roles in saving lives.
Take Home Naloxone kits are now available in over 1,500 locations across B.C., including 600 community pharmacies. We have doubled the number of overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites. There have been over one million visits and not a single death.
We are working to connect more people to treatment and recovery options in every region. We are improving the quality and oversight of private recovery homes and moving forward on brick-and-mortar projects like B.C.’s largest withdrawal centre in Vancouver. And we’re working with police in several communities, so they can connect people at risk to the services they need.
2) What is the Province doing to help workers on the front lines of the opioid crisis?
I can’t say enough about the heroic and tireless efforts of our first responders, harm reduction workers, health care and community workers, peers, volunteers, and family and friends of those struggling with addiction. And I know that it comes at a cost.
The government has established a provincial overdose Mobile Response Team and they truly are the front-line workers for our front-line workers. They provide much needed psychosocial supports and services. To date, more than 12,000 people from over 1,000 different agencies in 70 communities have accessed services to help build resiliency, address trauma, and prevent burnout.
We’ve also changed workers’ compensation laws to recognize the mental health injury and trauma experienced by many first responders.
3) Why do you think the federal government hasn’t done more to address this growing problem?
Federal funding has lent considerable weight to the effectiveness of our provincial response, and we appreciate that support. But the overdose crisis continues to take a disproportionate toll on B.C. It is critical that we continue to escalate our response—at the national level and in B.C.—to stop the harm and the loss of our loved ones.
There are no simple answers and no silver bullet that will solve this crisis overnight. But we can’t allow ten people dying a day in Canada to become the new normal. We are expanding access to alternatives to the toxic drug supply that can be provided under medical supervision to save lives. And we’ll keep adding tools to our toolbox until we turn the corner on this terrible crisis.
4) Why should CUPE members care about this issue?
Addiction and mental health challenges do not discriminate. The people dying are our children, our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, our coworkers and our closest friends. This crisis is an unprecedented public health emergency that has touched the lives of everyone.
CUPE members have always been on the front lines—working to build strong communities. In this overdose crisis, we need an all-hands-on-deck approach. We need to break down the walls of silence and stop the shame and stigma that keep too many people from reaching out for help.