The B.C. government is spending $36 million to more than double the number of treatment beds for youth struggling with addictions.
This comes as the province is grappling with sudden increases in overdose deaths. The B.C. Coroners Service announced 175 people died in June, up from 171 deaths in May.
The number of illicit drug overdose deaths in July is expected to be released soon.
“I’m incredibly proud that our government has invested in the single largest increase in youth treatment beds ever made in B.C., so more young people can get the care they need, when they need it, close to home,” Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy said.
“Especially in these challenging times, young people shouldn’t have to wait for care. There’s much more to do, and we’re going to keep building a full continuum of mental health and addictions care for everyone in B.C.”
Overdose deaths have risen substantially during the ongoing pandemic due to an increase in toxic drug supplies and more drug users being home and alone.
In total there will be 123 new beds from people aged 12 to 24. They will be for youth substance-use treatment and withdrawal management.
The money won’t be available right away, with the improvement earmarked to come in from now until 2022-23. The locations of the new beds are still being determined in consultation with regional health authorities.
The first round of new beds is expected to be in place by the end of March 2021. Along with choosing locations, health authorities must also plan clinical supports.
“You can’t take an opportunity that you aren’t given,” said Brody Van Velze, who has struggled with substance abuse.
“Since the age of 14, I have struggled with substance abuse. During my addiction, my life was filled with broken relationships, no respect for others or myself, and poor decisions. I have been clean for over four years now, and I owe my thanks to the Last Door treatment centre. Because I was given the opportunity to have a placement, I have found a new path in my life that grants me happiness and healthy relationships with others and myself.”
There are currently 124 withdrawal management and treatment and recovery beds for youth in the province.
The province attempted to pass legislation earlier this year that would have allowed hospital patients under the age of 19 who suffer from severe substance use problems to be admitted for stabilization care for up to 48 hours after a life-threatening overdose.
The BC Greens, the BC Liberals, and Indigenous groups raised concerns about the legislation and it has not been put to the side for review.
The province has already committed to new services to improve the youth substance-use system, such as the expansion of Foundry youth centres, investments in mental health promotion and prevention in schools, and establishing integrated child and youth teams in school districts.
“Today’s announcement impacts a population that has been uniquely affected by both COVID- 19 and substance-use issues: our province’s youth,” president of the Doctors of B.C. Dr. Kathleen Ross said.
“The near doubling of treatment beds will help youth who have taken many courageous steps to seek help and cannot afford to face long waitlists or closed doors.”