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B.C. moves to stem high rate of overdose deaths by recent inmates

People stand over 2,224 wooden stakes — representing the number of confirmed overdose deaths in B.C. over the last three years, many of them painted with names of overdose victims — at Oppenheimer Park in downtown Vancouver last September. Canada’s opioid overdose crisis is primarily about illegal street drugs and not legal prescriptions, says commentator Susan Martinuk.


Wooden stakes at Oppenheimer Park in downtown Vancouver in 2018 represent the number of confirmed overdose deaths in B.C.


DARRYL DYCK / CANADIAN PRESS files

British Columbia is launching a project aimed at reducing the number of overdose deaths by inmates recently released from correctional facilities.

A coroner’s death review panel last year found about two-thirds B.C. residents who died of an illegal drug overdose over a 19-month period had recent contact with the criminal justice system.

The panel said that between January 2016 and the end of July 2017, 333 people died within their first month of release from a correctional facility.

The Health Ministry says in a news release that five new community transition teams have been set up in Surrey, Prince George, Kamloops, Nanaimo, and Port Coquitlam to help people with opioid use disorders get treatment.

The teams consist of a social worker and a peer who has used drugs and may also been incarcerated to work with a person who’s been released to help provide needed support.

Lynne Pelletier, with B.C. Mental Health and Substance Use Services, says people in the justice system are some of society’s most vulnerable, yet they are the hardest to reach in the current overdose emergency.

“Integrating correctional care with community-based care gives us an opportunity not just to prevent overdose, but also connect to health services and possibly change the trajectory of their lives by addressing some of the social and economic realities that brought them to us in the first place.”

Dr. Nader Sharifi, medical director for Correctional Health Services, says about 40 per cent of people in corrections facilities are getting treatment for opioid use disorder.

He says people are at a heightened risk when they leave a facility and don’t have access to a physician.

“There are barriers to continuing the treatment they start with us. Clients are facing stigma. They might have no income and no fixed address. It’s not as easy as visiting the nearest doctor’s office,” he says in a news release.

The community transition teams began connecting with their first clients this month. The Provincial Health Services Authority says it hopes to scale up the project next year based on results of the service.

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