Skip to main content

Breaking through stigma and silence

​August 31 marks International Overdose Awareness Day and PHSA programs continue to make an impact on all aspects of the overdose crisis in B.C., from first response and emergency care to prevention, awareness and education.
Use this image as both the current Page Image and for News listings

​Declared a public health emergency in April 2016, deaths from overdoses across the province remain high. In 2018 alone, there were 1,533 overdose deaths in B.C. and another 538 have occurred so far in 2019, according to BC Coroners. 

Here’s how PHSA is making a difference and breaking through the stigma and silence associated with drug use. 

BC Centre for Disease Control 
Harm reduction
BCCDC Harm reduction team.jpgBC Centre for Disease Control’s (BCCDC) Take Home Naloxone program has distributed more than 164,000 naloxone kits since 2012. At least 47,000 kits have been used to reverse an overdose. (BCCDC's harm reduction team is pictured to the right.) 

Peer and community engagement 
BCCDC engages people with lived experience as experts to inform effective health service programming, collaborate on outreach and education materials, and provide harm reduction services such as needle distribution and disposal programs, peer programs to support people who use substances and overdose response training. A provincial peer advisory committee informs harm reduction work throughout the province. 

Data, monitoring, and evaluation 
BCCDC monitors and evaluates the overdose crisis and response efforts and provides data to support interventions to reduce overdose risk. This work involves partnerships with BC Coroners Service, BC Emergency Health Services, First Nations Health Authority, regional health authorities, BC Centre on Substance Use, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions and others involved in the overdose response. 

BCCDC reports on key indicators of the provincial response and develops surveillance to explain risk and strategize response activities. BCCDC is also the home of the BC Provincial Overdose Cohort, a shared public health resource of de-identified data on persons who have experienced a drug-related overdose in B.C. The cohort allows deeper inquiry to better understand the risks, journeys, and gaps experienced by British Columbians at risk of overdose. BCCDC aims to directly support positive change in policy, programs and services throughout the province through the Overdose Emergency Response Centre and Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions.

Health Emergency Management BC
The Provincial Overdose Mobile Response Team (MRT), part of Health Emergency Management BC (HEMBC), is commemorating International Overdose Awareness Day by providing starter kits to agencies and partner organizations in the frontlines of the overdose crisis throughout B.C. 

“We want to support our partners in combating the stigma behind substance use,” says Carolyn Sinclair, manager, MRT. “The kits are intended to help our partner organizations raise awareness of drug poisoning.” 
These starter kits consist of online education and awareness resources for International Overdose Awareness Day, materials for a suggested awareness activity and a red maple tree seedling for planting, in addition to suggestions on how to collaborate and facilitate open dialogue about people that have been impacted by the overdose public health emergency. 

The kits will be delivered to 100 organizations across the province by a MRT member who will introduce the initiative and explain the resources to each organization. “We recognize the challenges and complexity of this work,” says Carolyn. “Our intent is for MRT to help raise awareness alongside each organization.”

BC Emergency Health Services
BCEHS Paramedic response.jpgBC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) paramedics are on the front lines of the overdose crisis every day, responding to an average of 65 people experiencing an overdose daily. 

Paramedics and medical call takers and dispatchers have saved the lives of many overdose patients since the crisis began in 2016. 

In 2018, the overdose call volumes plateaued, but the crisis continues and there are certain days across the province when overdose calls show a dramatic spike, including responses to 130 potential overdoses in a single day. 

Due to the potency and types of drugs, paramedics are administering more naloxone than ever before. When BCEHS paramedics respond to a potential overdose patient, the patient has a 99 per cent chance of survival.

Kathy Pascuzzo in dispatch.jpgRead more about BCEHS’ paramedic specialists, an innovation out of the overdose crisis.

(Pictured to the right: paramedic specialist Kathy Pascuzzo in dispatch.)

BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services

Eight members of the Addictions teamBC Mental Health and Substance Use Services supports some of the most vulnerable people in the province with complex and persistent mental health and substance use issues. Roughly two-thirds of British Columbians who died of an illegal drug overdose between January 1, 2016, and July 31, 2017, had recent contact with the criminal justice system. A new BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services initiative launched this year is helping people with opioid-use disorders access treatment in their communities after release from a corrections facility. This community transition team project is preventing overdose and helping clients get on a healthier path.

Many BC Mental Health and Substance Use Service’s programs and facilities specialise treating clients with concurrent disorders, meaning patients with both mental health and substance use issues.

  • The Heartwood Centre for Women, which was the first program of its kind in Canada, provides a holistic approach to caring for women who are living with substance use and mental health issues.
  • The Burnaby Centre for Mental Health & Addiction provides specialized inpatient treatment services for B.C. adults with severe and complex concurrent substance addiction and mental health concerns. It fills a gap in the system by meeting the complex needs of people who are homeless or living in unstable housing, who are vulnerable and who are affected by significant physical and mental health issues.
BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre

As part of Phase 3 of the BC Children’s and BC Women’s Redevelopment Project, FIR Square has moved into a newly renovated space at BC Children’s Hospital. This space will enhance patient care, the working environment for staff and provide expanded space to support teaching and learning alongside the interdisciplinary care team.

FIR Square provides compassionate, trauma-informed and safe care to women using substances and their newborns exposed to substances. The new space is designed to focus on the unique needs of mothers and babies receiving this specialized care. The new unit is brighter with more access to natural light creating an overall calming environment for patients and families. The larger space will also allow mothers and babies to stay together along with additional clinical, therapy and counselling spaces to support women on their path to recovery and in transition back into the community.

Thank you to all PHSA staff who contribute to the overdose response across the province – your collective care, dedication and commitment to patients and families is inspiring and impactful.

BC Centre for Disease Control; BC Mental Health & Substance Use Services; BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre; Fir Square Combined Unit; HEMBC; overdose awareness; BC Ambulance Service
SOURCE: Breaking through stigma and silence ( )
Page printed: . Unofficial document if printed. Please refer to SOURCE for latest information.

Copyright © Provincial Health Services Authority. All Rights Reserved.

    Copyright © 2023 Provincial Health Services Authority