Opinion

LETTER: Fraser Health addresses overdose crisis

Naloxone kits are used to reverse the effects of a potentially deadly overdose. -  File photo
Naloxone kits are used to reverse the effects of a potentially deadly overdose.
— image credit: File photo

The following letter from Michael Marchbank, president and CEO of Fraser Health, addresses the ongoing work being done by Fraser Health to combat the overdose crisis in the region.

In 2016, British Columbians faced the public health emergency that is the overdose crisis. As of Nov. 30, 755 people in our province died this year due to an overdose – 259 of those deaths occurring in the Fraser Health region. That’s 259 sons, daughters, partners and friends who have lost their lives to an issue that has impacted our society at all levels.

In our region of 1.8 million people, the overdose crisis has touched all of our communities. How does a health authority manage something like this? We mobilized to develop and execute an aggressive overdose strategy, tackling the problem with multiple approaches, including prevention, harm reduction and treatment.

We combined our efforts in our communities and hospitals. Across our region, 56 sites – including all of our emergency departments and public health units – are now equipped to distribute Take Home Naloxone kits.

By the end of October, we distributed more than 2,300 kits, helping to save countless lives. We also developed and implemented a safe prescription policy for opioid-based medications in all emergency departments across the region.

We have held 17 community forums and naloxone training events in partnership with our municipalities, schools, and the RCMP to prevent overdoses from occurring and to prepare people in case they do.

We’ve launched a multi-phased public education campaign targeting all people who uses substances, and we’ve produced these materials in ways that can be easily shared by schools, media outlets and the public.

In October, we partnered with RainCity Housing and Support Society to develop a regional harm reduction strategy that, among other things, will connect the most vulnerable patients to health and social services and find ways to reduce inappropriately discarded needles in our communities.

We recently announced that we’re proposing two sites for supervised consumption services in Surrey, where we’ve seen the highest number of overdose deaths.  We’re working with the surrounding neighbourhoods and municipal partners to ensure that we produce measurable, positive results.

We know many people with opioid substance use disorders are seeking support to address their addiction and there are often questions as to the most appropriate treatment. Opioid substitution treatment (the prescription of medications such as Suboxone and methadone) is the most effective treatment in reducing use of opioids, improving physical health and reducing death rates.

We’re doubling capacity for opioid substitution treatment at our two sites in Surrey, and we’re enhancing these services in Abbotsford and Maple Ridge.

Over the past 18 months, we’ve opened dozens of substance use treatment beds in our region, and we’re on track to open another 100 beds in 2017. We are also working with our partners to ensure that access to opioid substitution treatment is part of the continuum of care in these residential substance use disorder services.

While our efforts have produced results in our communities, there is more to be done. The public health emergency has impacted us all, and Fraser Health is committed to being at the forefront of creating positive change.

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