One of the provinces hardest hit by what health officials consider a national opioid crisis is receiving tens of millions of dollars to increase access to treatment for substance abuse.
The federal government signed a bilateral agreement Thursday with British Columbia that will see $71.7 million go towards addressing the opioids issue, with $33.98 million coming from Ottawa and the balance from the province.
Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said the money was part of an emergency treatment fund included in the 2018 federal budget. In total, the provinces and territories will receive $150 million for opioid-related initiatives, she said.
“This funding will enhance treatment and recovery options for individuals in British Columbia,” said Petitpas Taylor, who made the announcement alongside B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy at an opioid symposium in Toronto. “The funding provides concrete help for people who need it.”
Darcy welcomed the federal funding.
“British Columbia is in the midst of the worst public health emergency in decades,” she said. “Before the end of this of this day, three to four people...will die, each of them leaving behind family, friends, loved ones and communities that are devastated by their loss.”
The federal funding will help increase supports for youth and Indigenous people living with addiction, expand and enhance treatment options for opioids abuse and fill in the gaps between treating people for overdoses in emergency rooms and connecting them with addictions treatment and recovery services, she said.
“It’s critically important to understand how and why people seek treatment but also how and why they may leave treatment so that we can do everything in our power to prevent people from falling through the cracks and going back to a poisoned drug supply on the street,” Darcy said.
The money will also help create 25 supportive residential treatment beds, which offer 90 days of opioid substitution treatment, psychosocial care, life skills training and aftercare support, she said.
Petitpas Taylor said it is the fourth such agreement regarding the opioids issue and Ottawa will be negotiating with the remaining provinces and territories, including Ontario, in the coming months.
Thursday’s announcement came as Ontario grapples with the future of its overdose prevention facilities, after the provincial government announced last month it would halt the opening of new sites while it conducts a review of their effectiveness.
The moratorium was condemned by more than 100 health groups, who said the move was putting lives at risk.
Advocates said a string of overdose deaths in Toronto last month shows there is urgent need for more facilities, and urged the province to reverse its decision.
Petitpas Taylor said on Wednesday that her ministry intends to share with Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government its data showing that overdose prevention sites and supervised consumption sites work.
British Columbia offered to share its experience with the sites as well on Thursday, saying nearly 2,000 overdoses had been reversed — and no lives lost — at the province’s facilities in the last year.
“So the evidence is there, we certainly look forward to sharing that with the province of Ontario,” the minister said.
Premier Doug Ford has said Ontario is reaching out to experts to get their input on overdose prevention sites. He has also said the government’s goal is to save lives and get people off drugs and into rehab.
More than 3,800 people died from opioids in Canada in 2017, compared to 2,978 in 2016, according to the latest figures published by Health Canada.