As B.C. deals with dueling health crisis, provincial party leaders have spent the last few weeks navigating questions on how they plan on combating and resolving both the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid crisis.
The pandemic has exacerbated the complex issues intertwined with addiction – from mental health issues due to social isolation to stress from turbulent employment and affordability – leading to B.C. seeing some of its largest death tolls due to illicit street drugs, which have grown increasingly toxic in the past few months.
Here’s a look at how each party plans to address B.C.’s first provincial health emergency:
Former provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall declared overdose deaths in B.C. a public health emergency in mid-2016, when the BC Liberals were in power.
Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson has pledged to focus on the treatment step of the four-pillars to curbing addiction by increasing program capacity, as well as introduce legislation that would “safely and ethically help young people with addictions into treatment.”
The Liberals say they would also increase mental health supports in public secondary schools, such as registered psychiatric nurses and look into funding discrimination which disqualifies some abstinence-based treatment programs.
Lastly, Wilkinson has said he’d want to implement a provincial prescription-drug monitoring program to prevent addiction with early referrals to specialist care and treatment options.
Leader Sonia Furstenau has said she’d like to scale up safe supply – a solution supported by health officials provincially and federally but not in the plan for the Trudeau government at this time.
Scaling up would include funding a wider range of safe supply resources, including implementing more safe opioid dispensing machines, as well as increasing harm reduction funding. The Greens say they would also “strongly pursue” decriminalization with the federal government.
Furstenau has also pledged to support the amending the Police Act to de-prioritize simple possession – a plan recommended by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and supported by police chiefs across the country.
The NDP were the first government in Canada to create a ministry dedicated to mental health and addiction, and have pledged to continue to implement their 10-year mental health plan. This includes expanding the number of treatment beds, focusing on mental health in kids and young adults through Foundry youth centres, and expanding counselling access to rural areas of the province.
In addition, Leader John Horgan has pledged to partner with WorkSafeBC to develop pain-management alternatives for those who suffer from workplace injuries and develop chronic pain.
Horgan also said he wants to bolster police response to the toxic drug supply by supporting the crack down on distributors and high-level dealers.
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