Premier John Horgan outlined new measures to tackle the opioid crisis in his speech at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver on Friday.
For the first time, he detailed how $30 million in overdose prevention funding will be doled out over the next six years. This money was announced earlier this month during the NDP’s budget update, but without specifics.
A new public awareness campaign will aim to prevent opioid addiction in men ages 30 to 60 years old by addressing the stigma and lack of discussion about opioid abuse in that age group.
Men aged 30 to 39 have been hit the hardest by the crisis, recent numbers from the coroner’s service show. There have been 876 illegal drug overdose deaths in B.C. so far this year.
The NDP will spend 6.7 million on the campaign over the next four years, working with WorkSafeBC, the B.C Restaurant and Food Services Association and the BC Building Trades Council.
The government will also spend $9 million over three years to help communities introduce innovative programs on prevention, early intervention, harm reduction and treatment.
Another $6 million over three years will go towards making Naloxone kits more available across the province, and another $3.4 million will help a new mobile response team assist first responders.
On the public safety side, Horgan promised to cut off a fentanyl supply that he said has contributed to more than 700 overdose deaths in B.C. It allocated $31.3 million over three years towards new RCMP and gang unit anti-trafficking teams. Non-RCMP detachments will also received funding.
The money will focus on outreach initiatives as well as helping to reduce a backlog in drug death investigations.
Long waits on housing strategy
Horgan admitted he was “personally frustrated” by how long it’s taken to roll out a housing strategy.
His government has been criticized for not keeping its promises on delivering 114,000 units of housing over 10 years.
The province had previously announced 2,000 modular housing units for the homeless. On Friday, Horgan said 600 homes would be coming to Vancouver and 150 to Surrey, with others still to arrive in Smithers.
Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said while the 150 homes would tide the city over, more would be needed in the future.
At a separate event later in the day, Horgan and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson announced details on the first of Vancouver’s share of the new housing. But there has been no word yet on when Surrey will get theirs. A press release stated that the first 1,000 units will be in operation by early 2018.
“The fact that they’re modular and can be moved around tells me that we’re going to get them very soon,” said Hepner. “And that gives me a sense of relief around accommodating some people on 135A Street.”
No worries on marijuana timeline
While police chiefs and other provinces have said the federal government is moving too fast in its push to legalize marijuana, Horgan told reporters after his speech that he wasn’t worried.
“Here in B.C., we’re well advanced on the distribution of marijuana over the years, whether it be through dispensaries, whether it be through the black market,” he said. “I’m anxious to get the black market out of our communities.”