British Columbia will create a centre to research drug addiction and provide education and guidance to health-care providers but more must be done to battle an illicit-drug overdose crisis, the premier says.
"We must stem this epidemic on our streets," Christy Clark said Wednesday. "We must protect our children."
She told an annual meeting of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities that B.C. will spend $10 million to deal with the issue, with half the funding going towards the B.C. Centre on Substance Use.
The province is home to some of Canada's leading addiction and recovery experts, and the centre will help them continue important work aimed at preventing more tragedies, Clark said.
Addiction specialist Dr. Evan Wood, who will be the interim director of the centre, said the funding will save lives and improve care.
"By describing best practices and building linkages between treatment and recovery systems, it will help to address many of the health and social challenges associated with untreated addiction facing the health-care system in B.C.," he said in a release.
The province will spend the remaining $5 million on initiatives such as handing out the overdose-reversing drug naloxone and teaching police how to use it to treat overdoses.
Expanding the use of naloxone is one priority identified by a provincial task force organized in July to address a high number of overdoses.
British Columbia has been the epicentre of opioid deaths in Canada, and the province declared a public health emergency in April.
Statistics from the BC Coroners Service show there were 488 deaths involving illicit opioids between January and the end of August, compared to 505 fatal overdoses in all of 2015.
The opioid fentanyl was detected in 264 of the deaths, up dramatically from 82 deaths a year ago.
Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe has said most of the fatal overdoses are the result of people taking fentanyl with another drug, mostly cocaine, and many don't know that they're ingesting the deadly opioid.
The drug is having a tragic impact, Clark said Wednesday.
"Fentanyl has become a real plague. And I think all of us have seen people and know people for whom it has had devastating consequences," she said.
"It is absolutely urgent that we get more done. These epidemics, every one of those deaths, is preventable."