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Squamish and Sea to Sky programs receive federal funding for opioid crisis

Federal funding of $20 million announced for local pain and harm reduction programs.

Sea to Sky programs that aim to combat the opioid crisis will get a portion of $20 million in federal funding that was announced in Squamish on Thursday.

The announcement was made outside of Squamish Helping Hands Society's Under One Roof facility by Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health Carolyn Bennett and West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country MP Patrick Weiler.

This is money being allocated from the last two federal budgets in 2022 and 2021 and additional funding for existing projects.

The funds will be dispersed to 42 programs across British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan through Health Canada's Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP).

B.C. gets over $11 million of the total $20 million.

Sea to Sky programs

Of that, the Squamish Pain and Primary Care Program, operated by the Squamish Helping Hands Society, will receive close to $800,000 over 27 months.

This funding will help “provide wraparound, multidisciplinary primary care to people experiencing pain, chronic disease, mental health challenges, who are homeless — or at risk of homelessness — and using substances or at risk of using substances and who experience barriers to accessing primary care," according to a news release

The Sea To Sky Community Services Society's Sea to Sky Mindful Harm Reduction program will receive about $170,00 added to the existing roughly $700,000 already provided by SUAP.

This will support a program that “will help address youth at risk for anxiety, depression and substance use, and who are increasingly in need of relevant services lacking in the Squamish region," the release states.

Bennett noted a whole-person, trauma-aware approach is required to tackle addiction.

"It's not what's the matter with this person, but what happened to that person. And it is about understanding the psychic pain of residential school or child abuse, or the physical pain of falling off a roof or being in a car accident ... and then being given not enough medication to numb the pain. Or with psychic pain, trying to find self-medication to numb the pain until you can build that relationship with a trusted person who actually believes in you, wants you to stay alive, and can see that there really potential in this life," she said. 

Lori Pyne, the new executive director of Squamish Helping Hands Society, spoke of the services her organization provides locally and how the funds will help. 

"Everyone deserves respect and dignity in their life. That's why we are working together in Squamish and the Sea to Sky region to build pathways for accessible care for the people who need it the most. Through SUAP's support, we will provide critical pain management and primary, preventative and follow-up care to the Squamish community," she said, in the release. 

(See all the programs getting funding.)

Depth of the crisis

Weiler spoke to the depth of the crisis and noted the many people he has heard from who have lost loved ones over the seven years since rising opioid deaths were declared a public health emergency. 

Across Canada, there were 7,328 opioid toxicity deaths in 2022 (January-December). That is an average of 20 deaths per day. 

According to the BC Coroners Service, in 2022, there were 2,272 suspected illicit drug toxicity deaths in the province.

Illicit drug toxicity is now the leading cause of death in B.C. for people between the ages of 10 and 59.

"The overdose crisis is not a standalone. It's connected to affordability, housing challenges, existing social inequalities... amongst other things," said Weiler at the press conference. "So our government will always take a whole of government approach to the overdose crisis and continue to support an evidence-based approach to saving lives.”

He also heralded facilities like Squamish's Overdose Prevention site for saving lives.

"The evidence is clear. Overdose prevention sites not only help those directly impacted by the overdose crisis, but help improve community safety for everyone," he said.

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