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B.C. political uncertainty causing concern for overdose victim’s mom

B.C. NDP's pact with Greens would create minister of mental health and addictions, but some worry the impasse has hampered overdose response.

Leslie McBain, whose son died of an opioid overdose in 2014, joined St. Paul’s Hospital’s B.C. Centre on Substance Use as its families engagement lead last week, and continues to sit on B.C.'s Joint Task Force on Overdose Prevention and Response. She is pictured on St. Paul's hospital in this 2016 file photo.

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Leslie McBain, whose son died of an opioid overdose in 2014, joined St. Paul’s Hospital’s B.C. Centre on Substance Use as its families engagement lead last week, and continues to sit on B.C.'s Joint Task Force on Overdose Prevention and Response. She is pictured on St. Paul's hospital in this 2016 file photo.

A British Columbian mother whose son died from a fentanyl overdose is watching the province’s political uncertainty with some unease since the May 9 razor-thin election.

With neither party commanding a majority of seats, government ministries have been treading water — maintaining existing programs but prevented from taking new policy directions.

Leslie McBain’s 25-year-old son Jordan died of an opioid overdose in February 2014.

Now, with the B.C. New Democrats appearing poised to defeat the governing B.C. Liberals in a confidence motion with the help of the Green Party soon after the Legislature meets on June 22 — barring a new election being called by the Lieutenant Governor — she wants whoever takes power to listen to those most directly impacted.

“We’re going to be holding their feet to the fire,” she told Metro in a phone interview this week. “Families who have a loved one in active addiction, and drug-dependent people, need to be supported by the government in a real way.

“We need low-barrier, wide-ranging recovery options, medically assisted treatment, and rapid-access clinics where a person can get help today — not in two weeks when you’re clean, because those haven’t worked.”

Last week, McBain joined St. Paul’s Hospital’s B.C. Centre on Substance Use as its families engagement lead, and continues to sit on B.C.'s Joint Task Force on Overdose Prevention and Response.

The public health emergency has so far killed 488 people between January and April this year, according to the B.C. Coroner's Service, with April seeing a staggering 136 deaths, a dramatic 97 per cent increase from a year earlier.

That amounts to nearly five people killed every day on average last month. More than 930 people died in B.C. last year; at this pace, there could be more than 1,450 in 2017.

Dr. Patricia Lee, chief medical health officer of Fraser Health, meanwhile called for the government to allow not just injections at supervised consumption sites, but other ways users take drugs too. And while the B.C. civil service is avoiding major policy shifts until a new government is formed, that didn't stop health authorities like hers from opening up a new supervised injection site in Surrey, the city's first.

But she said such facilities are only one small part of tackling the crisis, with many deeper investments and strategies needed in tandem.

The B.C. NDP, in their four-year co-operation pact with Greens, agreed to task a "dedicated minister responsible" for a mental health and addiction strategy, vowing the ministry would have “sufficient funding to provide frontline services, including … supervised injection sites.” They also promised an "immediate response" to the overdose crisis based on "successful programs” for on-demand addictions treatment, drug substitution therapy and more “early-warning” monitoring systems in health care.

McBain would also like Horgan and Weaver to commit to funneling all tax revenues from the sale of marijuana — expected if the federal government follows through on its vow to legalize it — into addictions response. Clark, she said, had already committed to that.

But McBain’s not entirely sold yet on the proposal to create a separate mental health and addictions ministry.

“As a volunteer, I’ve been working with joint taskforce for a year under the Ministry of Health,” she said. “I don’t see what’s to be gained by adding a new ministry.

“It would depend on how they structure it … If they had a person, a minister of mental health and addictions, who could be like the Drug Czar in the U.S. whose whole portfolio was to make nimble moves, that would be amazing.”

Meanwhile on Wednesday, former B.C. Liberal health minister Dr. Terry Lake — who declared a public health emergency a year ago, but left politics before the election — was awarded the Canadian Public Health Association’s prestigious National Public Health Hero award for that response.

“It's a great honour to receive National Public Health Hero award on behalf of (B.C.’s) public health team,” Lake said on Twitter.

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