PAN Letter to Minister of Mental Health and Addictions


January 31, 2023

Hon. Jennifer Whiteside
Minister of Mental Health and Addictions
Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC V8V 1X4

Sent via email: [email protected]


Dear Minister Whiteside:

On behalf of PAN, I write to congratulate you on your appointment as Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. In light of the unprecedented drug poisoning crisis that BC is experiencing right now exceptional leadership from the province is needed now more than ever. PAN is a network of more than forty community-based organizations (CBOs) and peer-run organizations providing frontline harm reduction, HIV/hep C/STBBI services across BC. Our members are working on the frontlines of the drug poisoning crisis, including in small urban, rural and remote communities. Our members excel at relational care, meeting people where they are at and providing services across the care continuum.

Unfortunately, many of our members struggle with sustainability on a number of levels. The vast majority of the funding provided by the province to address the drug poisoning crisis has been retained for services within health authorities. Community level organizations in the health sector do not receive core funding and instead are treated like a business under a procurement model. Contracts are often short-term in duration and/or subject to regular re-procurement, which limits the ability to support long-term and sustained responses. This does not build on the strengths of CBOs to be flexible and responsive to the needs of people who use substances.

Closely tied to funding are challenges regarding human resources. A lack of funding undermines the ability to sustain staffing levels in an increasingly competitive labour market. The lack of job security is challenging for all those who choose to work in community-based organizations and on the front lines. The negative impact on peers and those with lived and living experiences doing this work are more acute. In addition to trauma and loss, peer workers often must contend with the added element of not knowing if they will be able to continue in their efforts to keep others safe due to precarious employment. When community-based and peer-led organizations are not able to make long-term commitments to their peer colleagues, this undermines the very people who are best situated to provide support, nurture relationships, and offer the leadership and the solutions required to effectively address this crisis.

As you know, the critical importance of the work being done by community organizations, and the challenges they face, were recognized by the Select Standing Committee on Health:

Committee Members discussed the critical role that community organizations—such as non-profits and community-led groups, including drugs user groups—play in responding to the drug toxicity and overdose crisis, especially in areas where there is a lack of other supports and services. They acknowledged that these groups are well-placed to identify and respond to community needs. The Committee discussed that many community groups highlighted that their current funding structure is piecemeal and short-term, and agreed on the need to provide these groups with sustainable and multi-year funding so they can dedicate more time to providing important services rather than to trying to secure funds. (p.59)


The Committee recommends to the Legislative Assembly that the provincial government:

32. Provide sustainable, multi-year funding to community groups, including non-profits and community-led (drug user) groups, that includes accountability measures to support people-centered outcomes.

34. Create and fund significant additional human resources capacity to respond to the drug toxicity and overdose crisis through the retention, recruitment, and training of new and existing health care and social services professionals and peers. (p.61)

Your mandate letter asks that you prioritize taking into account the unanimous recommendations of the Select Standing Committee on Health. With almost 7 British Columbians dying every day from drug poisoning there is an urgent need to remove all barriers to an effective response, including the critical services being provided by CBOs and peer run organizations.

We would like to schedule a meeting with you at the earliest possible convenience, to discuss how working together, we can ensure that PAN members, CBOs, and peer-led groups, do not remain an under-utilized resource, and that collectively we are doing all we can to support their critical efforts providing life-saving harm reduction services across BC.


Yours sincerely,

J. Evin Jones, Executive Director


CC. Honourable Adrian Dix, Minister of Health