VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The COVID-19 pandemic is adding to unprecedented challenges as the province continues to deal with the overdose crisis, declared a public health emergency in B.C. four years ago Tuesday.
While there’s been a decline in the number of fentanyl-related deaths since, much work remains, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy says in a release.
“While the number of overdose deaths declined from 2018 to 2019, there are still countless families reeling from the unfathomable grief of losing a loved one. Now, we are facing a global pandemic on top of a fentanyl-poisoning crisis. People are scared and they feel alone,” she adds.
“That’s why we are working as fast as possible, across government and with all partners, to ensure people living with addiction challenges are supported through both crises.”
Darcy says it’s important for those who use to stay connected and is pointing to recently announced supports, such as emergency housing, expanded access to affordable counselling, and virtual mental health care programs.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic adding unprecedented challenges, the urgency to protect people who use drugs is greater than ever before.”
No one should have to risk their life to get the medication they need, she says.
But she recognizes that can be difficult while following health and safety orders, such as physical distancing.
Some of the services that people who use drugs rely on for connection and community, such as overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites, are changing the way they operate during the pandemic to protect both staff and clients.
Mobile-outreach teams and virtual check-ins can quickly set up shop at new locations that meet physical distancing requirements, Darcy added.
“In this unprecedented time of two public health emergencies, we must work together to both flatten the curve and stop overdose deaths. We cannot afford to stop caring about one health-care crisis as we stare down another,” she says.
Overdose deaths spiked in Vancouver the last week of March, as police officers attended eight suspected overdose — the most in a seven-day period since August 2019.