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Vancouver councillor wants next premier to approach overdoses with same urgency as COVID-19

Last Updated Sep 27, 2020 at 9:24 pm PDT

FILE - Fentanyl pills are shown in an undated police handout photo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Alberta Law Enforcement Response)

Lisa Dominato wants party leaders to commit to forming an emergency task force within 30 days of forming government

The councillor says COVID-19 shows what can happen if governments must act with 'urgency, intention, and coordination'

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — A Vancouver city councillor wants whoever is elected as B.C.’s next premier to commit to forming a task force that will be able to address the “profoundly overwhelming” public health emergency of fatal overdoses.

Lisa Dominato says the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that quick and effective action can be taken to save lives, if all levels of government work together and enlist expert advice.

“We really need to get all levels of government rowing in the same direction when it comes to mental health and addiction,” she says.

“We’ve had a declared health emergency on opioid overdoses now for five years. I think we need to see the same type of intentionality, urgency, and coordination that we’ve seen with respect to the pandemic. We need that same kind of focus on mental health and addictions, not only in our city but across the province. They should bring some experts together — including people with lived experience — and ask, “What are the five things we need to do now to actually move the needle. That’s what I’m hoping council will endorse.”

More than five thousand British Columbians have died as a result of overdoses, largely because of a poisoned drug supply, since a public health emergency was declared in 2016

Dominato is bringing a motion to council Tuesday asking for the formation of an emergency task force on mental health and addiction.” This group would be bound by a timeline, and include representatives from all three levels of governments, people with lived experience, and other experts.

It says the combined crises of mental health and addiction “continue to frustrate and defy most efforts to arrive at effective solutions and achieve more successful outcomes.”

The number of fatal overdoses has been devastatingly high since the pandemic was declared in mid-March. Drugs have become even more toxic, and people have become more isolated.

There have been 1,068 illicit drug deaths to date in 2020 in B.C., based on preliminary data. The total number of illicit drug deaths in the first eight months of the year surpassed the total for all of 2019. BC Emergency Health Services reports close to 7,500 overdose calls throughout B.C. this past summer, making it the highest number of overdose calls ever recorded in a three-month stretch.


 Dominato’s motion says the cooperation between levels of governments to address people’s needs, and keep them safe and healthy amid the pandemic provides a blueprint for how to handle a life-or-death emergency.

“Our province has emerged as a leader in the race against time, successfully implementing measures to flatten our province’s COVID-19 curve. Many observers have suggested a similar intentional and coordinated approach to mental health and addictions could be a game-changer that would save lives and create pathways to greater health and resilience. Given the persistence and the crisis level of mental health and addiction issues in our city, our province, and our country, it is incumbent upon governments at all levels – now more than ever – to radically rethink how we deliver social services across the spectrum,” the motion says.

She says policy changes, emergency public health orders, and the establishment of a dedicated provincial ministry haven’t been enough.

“One of the things we’re seeing play out in our communities right now is it appears we have people that are underserved,” she notes.

“We need a spectrum of services. We know we need harm reduction, we know we need safe supply, but we also need to have pathways to treatment as well.”