B.C. children's watchdog calls for help in preventing overdoses

Desiree Burns
November 18, 2018

In a report that reveals 24 youth died of overdoses in 2017, B.C.'s child and youth advocate says young people in the province need more harm reduction services, including supervised consumption sites.

Jennifer Charlesworth's report, Time to Listen: Youth Voices on Substance Use, also says substance use by children was prevalent in 154 critical injury reports previous year, almost double what it was in 2016.

Youth in British Columbia who use illicit substances say they have no place to do so under supervision, prompting the province's children's watchdog to recommend the creation of supervised consumption spaces specifically for those under 18.

The need for harm reduction is key to helping save young lives.

"We don't know where we will land on this, but we take the report very seriously and we will be looking closely at the recommendations", she said.

"I think our goal for youth and for everyone living with substance-use disorder is to try and connect people with treatment and recovery as soon as possible".

The report says the issue of substance use can be polarizing and some may not agree with the idea of young people using drugs at a safe consumption site funded by taxpayers.

Darcy responded positively to the report and said her ministry wants to ensure that youth suffering from addiction are able to access a wide array of barrier-free services, where there is a focus on prevention and early intervention.

Darcy said the ministry is working to rapidly expand its network of Foundry hubs for at-risk youth ages 12 to 24.

Asked what a youth-specific site might look like, Dr. Charlesworth gestured at the Directions Youth Services centre in downtown Vancouver where the news conference to release the report was being held.

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Vancouver Coastal Health, which provides substance use services in the Vancouver area, said in an email that access to overdose prevention and supervised consumption services is now limited to people ages 16 and older. Some female youths also expressed safety concerns about using services that were primarily accessed by older men, and those services being located in neighbourhoods with high rates of substance use.

At Vancouver's Insite supervised drug-use site, clients must be at least 16 years old.

It also calls on youth to be engaged and have a voice.

"The ministries of Mental Health and Addictions, Health, and Children and Family Development will review the report's recommendations carefully and work with the RCY as we continue to escalate our response to the overdose crisis and improve mental health and addictions care for all youth in our province", the statement adds.

"Seeing young people that are using drugs is, I would say, the most challenging thing for workers down here", she said. "It's a balance, but we're ready to have conversations about how we can up our game as a harm-reduction site". "How do you integrate services that also support people who are using?"

Dr. Charlesworth's report is meant to help inform the government's new Mental Health and Addictions Strategy, expected next spring.

"However, we must face the reality today that youth with significant substance use issues are overdosing and dying in B.C.", the report says.

Charlesworth noted that the participating youth consistently said they had difficulty determining what services were available and where, and that a single inventory of all available services would be ideal.

As for the Ministry of Children and Families, the report says it should develop a substance-abuse training program for foster parents.

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