April 4, 2023 | British Columbia
The opioid crisis in British Columbia has become a major public health emergency over the past decade, with opioid overdose deaths on the rise in the province since 2016. In 2022, at least 2,272 British Columbians lost their lives to toxic drugs, making it the second-highest year on record after 2021 when 2,306 deaths were recorded.
The primary cause of the opioid crisis in British Columbia is the widespread availability of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is much more potent than heroin. Fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs like cocaine or methamphetamines and sold on the street. Unfortunately, people who consume these drugs may be unaware they are laced with fentanyl, which greatly increases the risk of overdose.
Other contributing factors to the crisis are the lack of access to safe and affordable housing, mental health support, and addiction treatment services. People who use these drugs are often marginalized and face stigma, discrimination, and criminalization, which makes it challenging to access the resources they need.
Addressing the opioid crisis in British Columbia requires a comprehensive and collaborative approach. Harm reduction measures such as supervised consumption sites and access to naloxone, a medication that can reverse opioid overdoses, are essential. However, they are not enough on their own and must be used in conjunction with increased access to addiction treatment and mental health services, as well as addressing the underlying social determinants of health that contribute to drug use and overdose, such as poverty, homelessness, and trauma.
What Has Been Done
In 2016, the province declared a public health emergency and established the Joint Task Force on Overdose Response to coordinate a province-wide response. Since then, the province has invested in harm reduction measures, expanded access to addiction treatment, and increased funding for mental health services. While these initiatives have saved lives, the opioid crisis remains unabated and continues to reach record highs.
Most recently, the province has decriminalized the use of drugs in the hopes it will reduce some of the stigma and fears users have and help them make better use of harm reduction sites without fear of criminal charges. However, more needs to be done.
As the crisis continues, residents have become more involved in helping people in need. To facilitate these initiatives, the Red Cross is now offering a free First Aid for Opioid Poisoning Emergencies program. This online course is available to anyone who wants to take it and is designed to reduce the stigma around opioid poisoning and help prepare people to respond in the event of an overdose. All participants in the program will receive a free Naloxone kit once they complete the course.
The goal is to get the training and kits to as many Canadians as possible, thereby increasing the number of people who can respond to an overdose.
Even though more needs to be done at the Provincial and Federal levels it remains important for everyone to recognize that small actions can have a big impact on someone in need, and by working together, we can make a positive difference in the lives of those affected by the opioid crisis.
CDI College is a Red Cross Training Partner
If you would like to take the Red Cross First Aid for Opioid Poisoning Emergencies program please sign up here, or if you have a passion for helping people and are interested in a career as an addictions or social services worker, visit our program page here.