British Columbia’s Provincial Health Services Authority is providing few details about the replacement of one of the province’s most outspoken leaders on overdose response.
The PHSA, which runs the BC Centre for Disease Control, sent an internal memo Tuesday advising that Mark Tyndall is “moving his primary focus to his public health research related to the overdose crisis” and stepping away from his roles as executive director of the BCCDC and as the deputy provincial health officer.
Dr. Tyndall said the move was not his decision.
The PHSA did not make anyone available for an interview Wednesday, but said in a statement that it “restructured its executive leadership team in part with the goal of advancing and strengthening partnerships across the province.
“Leading the BCCDC through the upcoming changes at PHSA will take considerable time and effort and would inevitably have taken Dr. Tyndall away from his work on the opioid crisis,” reads the statement. Dr. Tyndall will continue his work as a professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health, with support from the BCCDC.
David Patrick, a professor and past director of the UBC school, who has been with the BCCDC since 1991, will serve as interim executive lead.
“PHSA is making some changes, and I was part of that change,” Dr. Tyndall told The Globe and Mail Tuesday. “I’m really sorry to leave – there are a lot of great people there and a lot of good things that continue to happen – but I’ll be there to support it from my seat at UBC as much as I can.”
Dr. Tyndall proposed sometimes controversial ideas, but he also freely criticized politicians and decision-makers if he felt their responses to the province’s overdose crisis was inadequate.
Jordan Westfall, president of the Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs (CAPUD), lamented Dr. Tyndall’s departure, calling him a tireless supporter who pushed for human-rights-based drug policy.
When CAPUD asked Vancouver city council last year for a community grant for an anti-stigma campaign, Dr. Tyndall was there to vouch for it, Mr. Westfall said.
“We lost the strongest ally we ever had in the medical community,” Mr. Westfall said. “Losing someone like that during an overdose epidemic that’s not getting any better is alarming.”
Karen Ward, a former board member with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) who was recently hired to advise the city on drug policy, recalled Dr. Tyndall going down to VANDU’s office in the Downtown Eastside in 2017 and asking her to participate in an Overdose Action Exchange he was organizing for the BCCDC.
It was at that meeting that the idea was born to distribute the opioid hydromorphone as an alternative to fentanyl-contaminated street drugs.
“He was one of the few people who was able to speak to many contexts at the same time,” Ms. Ward said, “to bring drug users into the conversation, but also flip that conversation up to decision-makers and people in power.”
Donald MacPherson, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, said the province is “losing a strong advocate at a public institution at a time when we need more institutions to step up to the plate.”
He acknowledged that Dr. Tyndall’s impatience could sometimes ruffle feathers.
“But if you put it beside the scale of the disaster we’re dealing with, he was not that disruptive,” Mr. MacPherson said. “In this sort of context, you’ve got to have people pushing people, and it’s not going to be pretty. It can’t be pretty, because this is a disaster.”
Judy Darcy, B.C.’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, thanked Dr. Tyndall for his leadership and commitment.
“Dr. Tyndall’s unwavering vision – putting peers and those most affected by the crisis at the centre of his work – has become a key cornerstone of our provincial response,” Ms. Darcy said in a statement. “We look forward to collaborating as he continues with his cutting-edge research on innovative ways to save lives in the overdose crisis.”