Fraser Health medical health officer Dr. Ingrid Tyler talks about the epidemic of overdoses. (THE NEWS files)

New action team in Maple Ridge tackles opioid overdoses

Maple Ridge one of 18 cities identified for more resources

Maple Ridge is among the B.C. communities hardest hit by the overdose crisis, and will be among 18 getting a new on-the-ground community action team and dedicated funding from Victoria.

The province announced the latest response to the overdose crisis on Feb. 1.

The new action team will build on the work already being done by Maple Ridge’s opioid working group, said Dr. Ingrid Tyler, a Fraser Health medical health officer and chair of the working group.

“My initial reaction was it’s a fantastic opportunity to expand the work and increase reach into the community, and address gaps that are identified,” she said.

Funding for the new team follows the release of January’s Coroners Service statistics showing there were 1,156 illicit drug overdose deaths with fentanyl detected in 2017, which is a 73 per cent increase over the 670 in 2016.

There were 1,422 suspected drug overdose deaths involving all drugs in B.C. last year, up 43 per cent from 2017, to almost four per day.

Fraser Health Authority had the highest number of these deaths in 2017 at 473, and Maple Ridge had 33, which was the 10th highest number of the municipalities named in the coroner’s report.

Tyler explained Maple Ridge’s opioid working group has spent 18 months increasing overdose awareness, expanding knowledge of local services, identifying ways to reduce the stigma against drug users and increasing compassion in the community. Its focus has been on youth and peers. Activities include presenting forums in schools in 2016 and 2017, and handing out wallet resource cards with information, such as where to get naloxone.

“Throughout the last year and a half, there has been an ongoing effort to improve access to naloxone and harm reduction services,” said Tyler.

She sees a role for the new team working in environments where people don’t know about services or cannot access them, by partnering with some of the working groups, including Ridge Meadows RCMP, School District No. 42 and Alouette Addictions.

“This bold, new approach is vital as families in every corner of the province continue to lose their loved ones to overdoses,” said Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy. “Each community action team will play a crucial role in targeting resources where they are needed most on the ground in their communities. This is critical to saving lives and connecting people to treatment and recovery.”

The CAT will focus on four areas of action to save lives and support people with addictions on a pathway to treatment and recovery:

• expanding community-based harm-reduction services;

• increasing the availability of naloxone;

• addressing the unsafe drug supply through expanded drug-checking services and increasing connections to addiction-treatment medications;

• proactively supporting people at risk of overdose by intervening early to provide services like treatment and housing;

These 18 communities will have up to $100,000 in one-time funding from the OERC Community Action Team Grants to drive this work forward.

In 2017-18, a total of $3 million in dedicated funding is available through the Community Crisis Innovation Fund; $1.5 million from the OERC Community Action Team Grants.

Another $1.5 million will be available to all B.C. communities, through a Community Crisis Response Grants application process.

The Community Crisis Innovation Fund will also be available in 2018-19 and 2019-20, with an investment of $6 million each year. This funding is part of the government’s three-year, $322-million funding to address the overdose crisis.

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