With 44 drug overdose deaths in 2017, Burnaby is not immune from the crisis sweeping the country.
But the city will soon get as much as $100,000 to create a working group to assess the city’s available addiction- and overdose-related resources, and to create a plan to prevent overdose deaths and support people with addictions through treatment and recovery.
Burnaby’s newly formed Community Action Team – a group of front-line community agencies, city representatives, experts and people with “lived experience” of drug addictions – is in the final stages of completing a grant application to access the province’s new Community Overdose Crisis Innovation Fund.
The city is one of 20 B.C. communities identified by the provincial government this year as urgently needing to improve the response to drug overdoses.
According to data from the B.C. Coroner’s Service, last year’s 44 overdose deaths are higher than those from 2013, 2014 and 2015 combined (40). There were 39 deaths in 2016.
Michel Pouliot, executive director of Burnaby Family Life, is a co-chair on Burnaby’s Community Action Team. He says that although there aren’t as many deaths as in Vancouver, the overdose crisis here is significant.
“Burnaby’s not immune to drug use… there’s still a number of people who are dying, and are victims, of overdoses,” he told the NOW. “We don’t talk about it a lot; we tend to think about the overdose crisis as being a Downtown Eastside kind of crisis, but it’s very significant even here in Burnaby, and we need to have a co-ordinated community response.”
Funding for the CAT is needed, he said, because many of the agencies involved are not-for-profit, and they don’t have resources for the kind of comprehensive review needed to determine the best way to coordinate all of the city’s available services.
The city’s increasingly diverse demographics, increasing population, and changes from recent development, means that a Burnaby-specific strategy is necessary, he said.
“I think it has to be a community-based response to the crisis. It’s not a one-size-fits all solution that’s going to work,” he said. “The type of issues that are affecting folks in the Downtown Eastside, and West Vancouver, and in Kelowna are going to be dramatically different across those communities, and Burnaby is no different.”
Results from each of the province’s CATs will be depend on what each community. The details of Burnaby’s proposal have not yet been finalized.
Some potential outcomes from CATs could be improving training for frontline workers, and creating a set of protocols for first responders. Burnaby might also see a community dialogue series to address the stigma associated with drug-usage.
As many of these deaths happen when people overdose alone at home, education for users about how to reduce some of the risks, such as not using alone, is an option.
Work at Burnaby’s CAT is expected to begin in September.