In early April, the BC legislature empowered the Select Standing Committee on Health to examine the urgent and ongoing illicit drug toxicity and overdose crisis. This is a non-partisan, all party committee comprised of ten MLAs that have been tasked to come up with recommendations with respect to what reforms and initiatives the province and local governments should introduce; how government and related institutions can improve care (including prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery); and how to expand access to safer supply and implement decriminalization.
The Committee began holding in-person hearings in May and PAN was invited to present to the Committee on July 5th in Vancouver.
At PAN, we know that our members are the experts in their communities, and their voices are key. We also know that the successes and ongoing challenges of organizations that operate in rural, remote, or small urban communities can look very different than those in large urban centres. We also know that the drug poisoning crisis will not end without listening to the voices of people with lived or living experience of using drugs. As the people with the solutions, their leadership is key and needs to be supported as well as remunerated.
I was therefore honoured to co-present with Charlene Burmeister, Executive Director of the Coalition of Substance Users in the North (CSUN). The work that CSUN does with drug users in Quesnel and surrounding area fully exemplifies the power of grassroots, peer led organizations who have consistently overcome a lack of funding and resources to save lives.
Together we made a good team! Speaking for PAN, I brought a unique ‘bird’s eye’ provincial perspective from what our membership has been telling us, while Charlene eloquently spoke to the realities of people who use drugs in the Quesnel region and the creative solutions that CSUN has come up with to meet their needs.
Our presentation focussed on two key areas and associated recommendations:
Funding – we need increased, targeted funding to support the front lines doing this work
- Community-based organizations (CBOs) and peer user groups like CSUN require consistent core funding (and improved procurement processes) to sustain their work, retain key staff, and allow for the flexibility to respond to emerging and emergency needs of the people they serve.
- Ask the Ministry of Health to work collaboratively with the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions to develop new funding approaches and models, including the procurement process itself, to support the front-line response to the drug poisoning crisis – we need a better way of resourcing the work on the ground.
Expanding Safer Supply – we need to provide people who use drugs with true alternatives to the poisoned drug supply and other harm reduction services to where it is needed
- We need to strengthen and expand the medicalized solutions, building on the good work that came from the risk mitigation guidelines. This includes expanding the formulary of what prescribed substances are available. This also includes options for inhalation.
- We need to engage more prescribers (physicians) and develop more ways for nurses and nurse practitioners to be involved.
- We need to develop options for virtual prescribing (telehealth, Zoom). This is especially important for rural and remote regions.
- We need clear direction from the province to municipalities to support more Overdose Prevention Sites (OPS) and witnessing where needed, and not shut this direction down with municipal bylaws.
- We need to ensure that supportive housing or complex care housing has witnessing and other services on site to stop people from dying alone – BC Housing must be a full partner in this commitment.
- We support the call for non-medicalized solutions, such as compassion clubs, where people can purchase the drugs they want knowing they are safe – led by drug user groups.
Charlene spoke to the many successes of CSUN’s work including offering prescription deliveries and the other ways in which they meet people where they are at. She also underscored that engaging directly with their peers helps those who have been already harmed by the system (by racism, oppression, stigma) – and is vital to their healthcare, social determinants of health, and engaging with wrap-around services.
You can read the transcript, or listen to the audio – of our full presentation, and the subsequent Q and A on the Select Standing Committee on Health site. Read PAN and CSUN’s key messages and recommendations
Heartfelt thanks to Charlene for travelling from Quesnel to Vancouver, to co-present with me – and for all the experience, passion, and tremendous knowledge she brought to our collaboration and making this presentation a success. Thank you as well to PAN board members Wendy Stevens and Jenny McDougall, for their input and important contributions. Thanks to Stacy Leblanc and Simon Goff for their involvement and work behind the scenes. Finally, thanks to all the PAN member organizations who are responding to the drug poisoning crisis, for your work in community and for keeping us up to date on your concerns, challenges, and victories.
Questions? Feedback? Get in touch! J. Evin Jones, Executive Director, [email protected]