Minister’s statement on illicit drug toxicity deaths report

Press Release

July 16, 2020

VICTORIA – Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, has released the following statement on the BC Coroners Service’s monthly illicit drug toxicity deaths report for June 2020:

“In June, 175 British Columbians lost their lives because of an illegal drug supply that is more toxic than ever. They were people who were loved, made a difference in someone else’s life and deserved every chance to live and thrive.

“Prior to COVID-19, we were headed in the right direction, with overdose deaths decreased 36% year-over-year – the first time overdose deaths had gone down since 2012. There was so much more to do to save more lives, but our plan and our collective efforts were making a difference. Now because of COVID-19, the drug supply has become more toxic than ever before – with tragic consequences.

“We’re redoubling our efforts to save more lives and connect more people to treatment and recovery. We’re opening new treatment beds, expanding our efforts to separate people from the toxic drug supply, launching new teams to help people stay connected to treatment and working in closer partnership with First Nations to support culturally safe Indigenous-led solutions.

“The weight of two public health emergencies in this province is taking an enormous toll on everyone. Many are struggling financially and enduring months of loneliness and isolation. People are missing the connections that mean so much to them.

“I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks and sincere gratitude to the thousands of dedicated people working day and night on the front lines of the overdose crisis. They are giving their hearts and souls to help others and weathering a storm that feels endless. You are true heroes in this fight.

“Now, more than ever, people who use substances need our support, not judgment. British Columbians showed the world what we could do by coming together around COVID-19. Let’s demonstrate that same commitment and kindness when it comes to battling B.C.’s other public health crisis.”

A backgrounder follows.


Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions
250 208-8438


Overdose response actions

1. Enhancing treatment and recovery

New beds for addictions and recovery care: $16 million to support 50-70 new treatment and recovery beds and to support existing recovery services that have been challenged by COVID-19.

Better, safer care in supportive recovery: This includes more government oversight, expanded training for staff and higher per-diem rates for people on income assistance in supportive recovery.

Expanded opioid agonist treatment (OAT): The number of patients dispensed OAT has grown to 23,199 as of May 2020. The number of clinicians prescribing any form of OAT in a given month increased from 773 in June 2017 to 1,495 in April 2020. The Province has also significantly expanded access through Rapid Access to Addictions Care Clinics in all health regions (42 new patients/week, with 2,500 referred to community for ongoing care) so that more people can access the care they need, where and when they need it.

More flexible treatment options: More options are available than ever, including injectable OAT across eight sites and low-barrier pharmaceutical alternate programs. These programs are increasingly available at some supervised consumption services, so people can get directly connected to treatment. They will expand to 335 patients in Vancouver, the Interior and Fraser Health region.

$40 million provided to First Nations Health Authority: This funding will upgrade First Nations-run treatment centres throughout B.C., linking more people to treatment and recovery. Plans call for eight projects – two new facilities and six replacement facilities.

2. Improving the substance-use system of care

New substance-use teams to keep people connected to services and treatment: Seven new and nine expanded substance-use teams throughout the province will help people stay connected to health care services, treatment and recovery.

Emergency room connections: This will improve access to evidence-informed care, including access to suboxone.

Emergency health services pilot project: Through a partnership with BC Emergency Health Services, more people who are not already connected to care are being provided with referrals and ongoing support if they decline transport to hospital following an overdose.

Significant expansion of mental health and addictions counselling: This will be achieved through Community Counselling grants.

3. Responding to an even more toxic drug supply

New prescriber guidance: In March, new guidance for prescribers and pharmacists was released to keep people with substance-use disorder separated from the toxic drug supply and to protect them from withdrawal and other harms during COVID-19. The program has trained more doctors, nurse practitioners and pharmacists on how to prescribe pharmaceutical alternatives to toxic drug supply – 3,018 people have attended webinars for prescribers on how to use the new guidance to support people.

There has been a 190% increase (from 677 to 1,962 people) in the number of people dispensed hydromorphone in June 2020 compared to March 2020. Dispensations have increased in every health authority region in the province. Pharmaceutical options give patients the opportunity to stabilize and take the steps necessary to find a pathway to treatment and avoid accessing the highly toxic and unpredictable toxic drug supply.

A new 24/7 helpline for prescribers and pharmacists: The helpline provides live, in-the-moment support to doctors, pharmacists and nurse practitioners while they are treating patients with opioid use disorder and considering prescribing safe prescription alternatives to the toxic drug supply.

4. Keeping people safe

New Lifeguard app: The recently launched free app helps to save lives by connecting people who use substances automatically to first responders if they become unresponsive. Since its launch in late May, more than 1,000 people have used the app and it has already called first responders to save lives.

Overdose prevention and supervised consumption services: During COVID-19, these have been declared essential services. Government has supported the sites to stay open with new COVID-19 measures to help give people the confidence that they can continue to use these services safely during the pandemic. Since their inception, these 32 locations have played a critical role in connecting people to treatment and have had more than one million visits, more than 3,000 overdoses survived and zero deaths.

Take home naloxone kits: These kits are available at 1,723 locations, including more than 731 pharmacies in the province. In 2019, 232,312 kits were shipped and 61,374 have been reported as used to reverse an overdose.

Federal funding for safer supply project in the Cowichan Valley: Federal funding includes $2 million for a pilot project in Island Health. The innovative project will provide pharmaceutical-grade medication as an alternative to the toxic illegal drug supply for people in Cowichan Valley who have not responded to other forms of treatment for opioid use disorder.

5. Community response

Grants totalling $1.6 million: These grants will be provided to escalate the overdose response in rural and Indigenous communities and to provide supports, including groups for grief and loss, family services and networks for people and families impacted by the overdose crisis.

People with lived/living experience: Continued investments will ensure people with lived and living experience are involved in service delivery, policy and program development.

Facility overdose response box program: This program provides community organizations with naloxone, supplies and training so staff can recognize and respond to overdose. There are currently 625 registered sites in the province.

6. Indigenous-led solutions

$40 million provided to First Nations Health Authority: This funding will help to upgrade First Nations-run treatment centres throughout B.C. and will link more people to treatment and recovery. Plans call for eight projects – two new facilities and six replacement facilities in coming years.

Land-based healing: $23 million for critical land-based cultural programs that support healing from trauma and strengthen resiliency.

$44 million to the First Nations Health Authority: This funding will support the overdose emergency response as it relates to First Nations communities.

$30 million for mental health and wellness programs: Nation-based community driven programs supporting First Nations throughout B.C.


Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions
250 208-8438

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