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City of Vancouver funds overdose response team

The City of Vancouver says it is providing funding for a permanent position to lead a program aimed at supporting people who have survived overdoses. Chester Ptasinski / Global News

Funding has been announced for a permanent position to lead a program that aims to address Vancouver’s overdose crisis.

The City of Vancouver says it is providing funding for Vancouver Fire Rescue Services Capt. Jonathan Gormick to lead the Combined Overdose Response Team, an initiative that sees firefighters and health-care workers connect overdose patients with treatment and support services.

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“The program is patient-driven,” he said on Wednesday. “Options are provided without an agenda. And we figuratively and literally meet patients where they’re at.”

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The team began as a pilot project in August 2019. Gormick said that over 20 months the team connected more than 150 patients to a range of supports, from health care to housing and income supports.

Read more: B.C. reports record number of illicit drug overdoses in 2020

The BC Coroners Service said 2020 was the province’s worst year yet in terms of lives lost due to illicit drug overdoses.

There were 1,716 deaths due to illicit drugs in 2020 in B.C., a 74 per cent increase over the 984 deaths recorded in 2019.

Read more: Plan unveiled to make Vancouver first jurisdiction in Canada to decriminalize simple drug possession

Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, said the joint initiative could help the city as it seeks to become the first Canadian jurisdiction to decriminalize simple possession of drugs through a federal health exemption.

“This is one of the programs that will help us convince the federal government this is the right thing to do, we have the systems in place here to help people and link them to appropriate care,” she said.

— With files from Richard Zussman and The Canadian Press

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