The B.C. government is opening a new Overdose Emergency Response Centre at Vancouver General Hospital in its latest effort to combat the province's deepening overdose crisis.
"Every day this overdose crisis is devastating families and communities," Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy said in a statement Friday.
"We are escalating our response, not just to prevent overdose deaths today, but to get at the very heart of the crisis so that no one has to lose another loved one.
The centre will have 10 full and part-time members who will work on four main objectives.
These include identifying and supporting people at risk of overdose, addressing the unsafe drug supply by improving access to drug-checking and substitution treatments and expanding community-based harm reduction services.
As part of its mandate, the centre will also work to increase the availability of naloxone at the community level.
Chief medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health, Dr. Patricia Daly, will serve as the centre's executive director and clinical lead.
Five regional teams will be put in place throughout the province.
"We continue to see the tragic loss of life from overdoses across the province, and we need to intensify the response at all levels to turn this crisis around," Daly said.
"This escalated emergency response strategy draws together and co-ordinates many partners—at the community, regional, and provincial levels—with a common determination to save lives."
Last month, a report from the BC Coroners Service found that more than 1,100 British Columbians had died of suspected illicit drug overdoses in the first nine months of the year—nearly twice as many as during the same period of 2016.
Fentanyl appeared to be playing an increasingly prominent role in the opioid crisis, with the percentage of 2017 deaths tied to the deadly drug up 147 per cent from the same time last year.
The new provincial emergency centre will monitor statistics such as these and other data in order to pinpoint emerging trends in the overdose crisis.
That information will be used to determine the hardest-hit communities in the province, where actions teams will be put in place by January.
"First Nations are disproportionately impacted by this crisis and our collective response must address that. Increasing cultural safety in the province's response efforts is essential for First Nations and Aboriginal peoples to receive more effective health and social services," said First Nations Health Authority chief medical officer Dr. Evan Adams.
"We are encouraged by the new provincial overdose emergency response structure with its 'Ask Once, Get Help Fast' approach and look forward to working with our partners to ensure access to these services in all five health regions."
The centre is funded by the $322 million the province announced in September to address the overdose crisis.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Sarah MacDonald
#BREAKING: Province announces new Overdose Emergency Response Centre—launched today at Vancouver General Hospital. Funded by some of the $322 million promised to fight the province's opioid crisis. Run by a team of ten full and part-time staff members.— Sarah MacDonald (@CTVSarah) December 1, 2017