B.C. expected to unveil billion-dollar drug and mental health treatment plan

Click to play video: 'B.C. government expected to announce new mental health and addictions plan'
B.C. government expected to announce new mental health and addictions plan
WATCH: The provincial government is expected to announce a new mental health and addictions plan next week worth a billion dollars. It was sent to treasury board for approval last week. Richard Zussman has the details. – Feb 21, 2023

British Columbia’s NDP government is expected to soon unveil a massive mental health and addictions plan, but is keeping tight-lipped about details ahead of budget day.

The plan, which was first reported by Business in Vancouver and believed to come with a billion-dollar price tag, was brought to the province’s treasury board for approval last week, Global News has confirmed.

The plan is expected to increase the number of detox and treatment beds for people with substance use addictions, while eliminating user fees for anyone seeking treatment.

Coquitlam’s Red Fish Healing Centre is being looked at as a model to expand province-wide.

B.C. Premier David Eby would not confirm details of the plan ahead of next week’s provincial budget.

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“This is an absolutely vital issue for British Columbians and it is for me, it was something I talked about through the leadership campaign, before that as attorney general and now as the premier of the province and I know it’s a priority for British Columbians as well,” Eby said.

Click to play video: 'Access to drug treatment programs continues to be challenging in B.C.'
Access to drug treatment programs continues to be challenging in B.C.

The expansion of beds and end to user fees were both proposed in the opposition BC Liberals’ own $1.5-billion proposal to tackle the province’s drug problem.

Party leader Kevin Falcon said under a BC Liberal government, treatment would come front and centre as opposed to harm-reduction efforts.

“We’re moving away from the NDP approach of publicly-supplied addictive drugs and decriminalization of hard, dangerous drugs,” Falcon told Global News.

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“We think the focus should be on treatment and recovery. If that’s the shift the NDP are making we’ll support that effort because its much needed.”

The NDP’s move comes as the province’s toxic drug crisis continues unabated.

After years of increases, drug deaths dipped in 2019 to fewer than 1,000, but surged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, an estimated 2,272 people died of suspected illicit drug overdoses.

Click to play video: '‘These deaths were preventable and these lives mattered’: B.C.’s chief coroner on toxic drug death numbers for 2022'
‘These deaths were preventable and these lives mattered’: B.C.’s chief coroner on toxic drug death numbers for 2022

Medical experts and advocates for drug users continue to advocate a two-pronged approach, which includes ready access to treatment and a safer supply of drugs, which can keep people with addictions alive until they’re ready to seek help.

“Treatment is crucial and has been lacking, and any money that is spent, as long as they spend the money on treatments that have some evidence behind them so the money goes to good places would be welcome,” Deb Bailey with Moms Stop the Harm told Global News.

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“However, we are still concerned about the toxicity of the drug supply for people who can’t get into treatment.”

Bailey said people who are seeking treatment currently face major barriers, especially when it comes to cost.

She said the lack of available spaces is also a major problem.

“You can’t still go and walk in the door. There’s still sometimes weeks (of wait lists). And with addiction, we don’t always have the luxury of weeks, because it is such a powerful force for people,” she said.

It’s still unclear what the government will do on the issue of involuntary care. The BC Liberal plan proposes using involuntary care in the most extreme situations where individuals are a danger to themselves and the community.

Eby had advocated for some form of involuntary care for multiple-overdose cases in the past, but walked that position back late last year.

How the expanded services will be staffed remains another major unknown.

Falcon said raised concerns the NDP’s apparent pivot towards treatment may not include the necessary groundwork for success, such as adding seats in post-secondary to train the necessary workers.

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Details of the plan, including how to staff it, are expected following next Tuesday’s provincial budget.

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