The race is on for leadership of the B.C. Liberal party and the candidate who's emerging as a frontrunner, Andrew Wilkinson, has released an ambitious plan for reducing overdose deaths.
It’s actually more of a goal than a plan. The document says Wilkinson government would “reduce overdose deaths by 50% in the first two years”.
What it doesn’t say—or even hint at, really—is how that could be accomplished.
“B.C. has taken a leadership role in treating this devastation sweeping across North America,” the document reads. “However, we must go beyond an acute response and enable our citizens to get well, recover and return to productive, fulfilling and healthy lives.”
B.C.’s NDP government could fall if it loses support of three Green MLAs whose support the NDP requires to maintain a 50-percent majority. So we don’t know when Wilkinson might have a chance to become premier. But here’s what a 50-percent reduction in fatal overdoses would look like if he were elected today:
It’s an ambitious goal. And Wilkinson’s plan really gives no indication of how it could happen.
His first bullet point talks about prevention and treatment.
“Reprioritize addiction care, by focusing heavily on prevention, education and recovery, using harm reduction efforts as an intermediary step to getting well,” it reads.
Nothing wrong with any of that. But an investment in treatment, no matter how substantial, would take several years at the very least before it would show a correlated reduction in overdose deaths.
Other aspects of Wilkinson’s plan include:
- an “effective province-wide prescription monitoring program”;
- making “mental health and wellness a central priority of health care system planning and delivery”;
- and putting “Put mental health professionals, such as registered psychiatric nurses and counselors, into high schools to provide education about mental health and addiction and to provide relevant and timely access to appropriate care”.
Wilkinson is the Liberal MLA for Vancouver-Quilchena. He was first elected to the B.C. legislature in 2013 and previously served as the minister of advanced education, minister of technology, innovation, and citizens’ services, and, before that, deputy minister of economic development. The leader of the B.C. Liberals will be selected via an internal party vote, with the winner scheduled to be announced on February 4, 2018, at a convention in Vancouver.
Since 2010, illicit-drug overdose deaths across the province have increased from 211 that year to 333 in 2013 to a projected 1,470 in 2017.
B.C.’s former Liberal government (which was voted out of power last May) eventually took drastic action in response to a sharp rise in overdose deaths that occurred during the winter of 2016. That December, then-health minister Terry Lake used emergency powers to establish more than 15 overdose-prevention sites across the province. The Liberals also launched a drug-testing trial program that was later expanded by the NDP. In addition, Lake initiated a slow expansion of injectable-opioid substitution therapy programs that the NDP has also continued with.
All three of those initiatives were bold and promising. Yet the rise in overdose deaths that began five years ago only accelerated.
Compared to those types of emergency actions, Wilkinson’s plan—or at least what we know about it so far—is more of a long-term, aspirational document. There’s nothing there that would result in such a rapid decline in overdose deaths. So it’s completely unclear how Wilkinson might accomplish that goal of a 50-percent reduction in 24 months.