Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Bring Hope to Local Governments: 8-Years of the Toxic Drug Public Health Emergency

In a month, British Columbia will be into year eight of the toxic drug public health emergency. You or somebody you know has likely been directly impacted by this health emergency, whether it has been responding to an overdose or experiencing the loss of a loved one.

Fraser Health Sign

This public health emergency has highlighted and exacerbated existing health and social infrastructure gaps, with local government often trying to plug the gaps.

While local governments are not set up to handle medical public health emergencies or deal with the root causes of toxic drugs, we are nonetheless trying to respond out of necessity.

One clear example is that fire departments are usually the first to arrive on the scene when someone calls 911 and have seen a sustained, significant increase in overdose responses. These calls have stretched many first responders and fire departments to their limits.

Many local government leaders, whether elected representatives or staff members, have felt unsupported and various degrees of hopelessness regarding how to reduce the number of overdoses and related deaths in their communities.

Local Leadership United (LLU) is a Community Action Initiative and BC Centre for Disease Control project that is creating a network for local government elected representatives to exchange ideas, learn, and support each other regarding this public health emergency.

They recently released a report that found local government leaders:

  • Have difficulty understanding local government roles in addressing substance use-related challenges
  • Feel alone in their work in addressing substance use-related challenges
  • Have knowledge gaps on how to reduce harm to individuals and communities due to the toxic drug public health emergency

The LLU has made the following recommendation to support local government leaders:

  • Investing further in dialogue, training and network opportunities that address knowledge gaps, foster relationships of trust and intersectoral partnerships in community overdose response.
  • Investing in granting opportunities that support local governments and partners to build whole-community overdose response: one that allows local leaders to understand their roles, build stronger relationships, and apply a harm reduction approach.
  • Investing in provincial, local, and Indigenous-led anti-stigma campaigns aimed at bringing broader communities into overdose response efforts.

These recommendations will help reduce the hopelessness that many in local government feel and help those in local government work with others to address this public health emergency in their communities, including advocacy to the provincial government to respond to this health emergency in communities throughout BC effectively. There is strength in coming together.

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