B.C. opposition leader proposes 'radical' mental health and addictions plan
With an unrelenting overdose crisis claiming an average of six lives a day in British Columbia — the opposition leader says there needs to be a bigger focus on treatment options, and is proposing a model he calls a "radical shift."
B.C. Liberal leader Kevin Falcon says if elected, one of the key areas would be to have affordable and accessible treatment options.
"We will eliminate user fees for publicly funded treatment beds and expand existing agreements with private operators so the money is never going to be a barrier to life-saving care," Falcon told reporters at an event Thursday.
He's also proposing using the Riverview Lands in Coquitlam to deliver programs, and to build recovery communities across the province — that can stay for up to a year. The cost is estimated at a billion-and-a-half dollars over three years.
He made the announcement with a recovery centre as the physical backdrop. The contextual backdrop is an alarming number of people that are dying each day in the province due to toxic drug overdoses.
Falcon criticized the government for what he saw as too much attention paid to harm reduction.
"I guarantee you it will not end well, if are entire purpose is to help people maintain an addiction lifestyle," he added, as he pushed for more treatment and recovery options as a way out of the crisis.
The province has several supervised consumption services and drug testing programs. This week, B.C. became the first jurisdiction in Canada to decriminalize those carrying small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use.
Elenore Sturko, a Liberal critic and former RCMP officer said the party supports the move, to a point.
"Treating personal drug use as a health-care issue and not a criminal justice one is something we stand behind, however decriminalization without a plan for treatment and recovery is patently irresponsible," Sturko added.
Many advocates say recovery services don't help those who are dead — and are pushing for safer supply.
The BC Coroners Service has struck several death review panels that made recommendations like greater access to a safer drug supply, a provincial strategy that can be measured by data, a fix for the patchwork system, and making sure all treatment and recovery centres abide by provincial standards.
On Tuesday, Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe addressed progress on those recommendations.
"In January 2023, large gaps remain in all of these areas," Lapointe said.
Successive governments haven't made a significant dent in the crisis. Mental health and addictions minister, Jennifer Whiteside said they're try to rebuild a fragmented system left behind by previous administrations.
Addressing the Falcon fix, Whiteside added, "We are building out the system of mental health and substance use care across the continuum of care, including treatment beds and harm reduction."
The province has made historic investments — the results just haven't followed.
More than 11,000 people have died due to illicit drug overdoses in B.C. since 2016.
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