Shypitka lambastes government over opioid epidemic
Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka Oct. 4 addressed fellow legislators about the ongoing opioid epidemic in the province, noting inadequate steps are being taken to tackle it.
Shypitka spoke to a colleague’s motion: “Be it resolved that this House agree that the current measures have not adequately addressed the opioid epidemic and commit to making mental health and addictions a priority in British Columbia.”
“I want to begin my remarks today by expressing my condolences to every family member, every friend, every colleague and neighbour who grieves the loss of someone they loved to addiction. Day-by-day that number, sadly, continues to rise. Each month the B.C. Coroners Service releases its illicit drug overdose report, and we all brace ourselves for more tragic news,” Shypitka said.
“The latest report, released last week, showed that July was the second-deadliest month ever recorded in British Columbia. Our province lost 184 more people; that is six people per day. It’s staggering, and it’s clear that whatever we’re doing, it’s not working.
“With these statistics as a backdrop, one has to wonder why on earth the Premier has recently cut funding for life-saving Naloxone kits. These are essential tools for front-line emergency responders during this crisis. The official opposition has written to the Premier asking for the funding for these kits to be restored to police departments that are sounding the alarm. We have also asked him to activate the Select Standing Committee on Health to enable all parties to collaborate on actions to prevent further tragedy and loss in our province, but so far, these requests have been met with silence — which is astounding, given the importance and the urgency of this issue.
“People’s lives are at stake. They need access to life-saving Naloxone. Just as important, they also need timely access to treatment options and mental health support, but they’re not getting it. This is an issue across B.C., not just in the major centres but also in rural communities like mine. When a person suffering from addiction is ready and willing to seek out help, we can’t go and tell them that it’s not available and that they’ll have to sit on a wait-list for weeks or, perhaps, months. When they make that call, they need to be supported immediately.
Shypitka said the province needs “a comprehensive and seamless mental health and addictions system, one that isn’t just reactionary or offering services that are too little, too late. We must put them on a path to healing before it’s too late. But that’s not what we’re seeing. Instead, the government continues to tout the significance of a dedicated Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions.
“I remember the announcement in July 2017 when the Premier glowed on how this dedicated ministry would greatly change the trajectory of mental health and addictions. At the time, provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall questioned whether a new ministry dedicated to mental health and addictions would help, saying that it could just add another layer of bureaucracy to the issue that is already drowning in red tape. Is that what we’re seeing here, some 4.5 years later?
“Some in the media have pointed out that the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions has the smallest budget in government and spends most of it on staff — another layer of bureaucracy indeed. It doesn’t fund any programs, and it can’t control mental health or addictions services in other ministries. Although the Foundry program, founded during the time the B.C. Liberals were in power, is a godsend to many — and one such facility is coming to my community in Kootenay East — this ministry has no hand in the decision-making around where the Foundry centres for youth services are located.
“It appears to be totally hands off on all fronts. To sum up, it’s useless. What a damning indictment. What have this Premier and his government done to prove the media reports wrong or to change the trajectory of this ever-worsening situation? Absolutely nothing. They continue to plod along and insist that they’re working hard on this file and that it’s a top priority.
“Four and a half years ago the Premier stated his first order of business was to go to Ottawa to meet the Prime Minister and talk about wildfires, talk about softwood lumber and talk about the fentanyl crisis. Well, none of us need to be reminded that since then, B.C. has had two of the worst forest fire seasons ever in this province, softwood lumber is killing our cost of production and making our mills uncompetitive, and our opioid crisis has spiralled out of control.
“Our overdose numbers continue to climb. Families continue to lose loved ones, and the government decides to cut funding for Naloxone kits for police departments.
“This Premier has made many priorities and promises: 114,000 affordable homes, renters rebates, $10-a-day daycare, forest mitigation, saving our softwood lumber and resolving our opioid epidemic. I’m finally realizing the words that make up the initialism NDP. They’re simply “never delivering promises.”
“My challenge to the next member opposite to speak is to tell us what this government is going to do differently to finally get people the help they need,” Shypitka concluded.