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

VICTORIA — British Columbia’s children’s watchdog has released a report calling for comprehensive change after it says two dozen children between the ages of 10 and 18 died of drug overdoses last year.

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 last year, nearly double what it was in 2016.

The Representative for Children and Youth’s office gathered information from 100 young people in focus groups and reviewed the critical injury reports to come up with its final recommendations.

The report says in almost every focus group, the first reason youth gave for using substances was “to numb” their emotional pain caused by events and trauma in their lives.

It makes five recommendations calling for systemic change to promote better services and greater safety for B.C.’s children, including the development and implementation of harm reduction services that would have youth-specific spaces for supervised consumption.

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.

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

Steps must be taken to keep them safer and to help them build healthy connections in their lives until they are ready for treatment, it says.

“B.C. has lost far too many young people to drug overdoses,” the report says, noting that six of the young people examined in the 154 critical injury reports have died since Jan. 1, 2018.

The timing of the report comes in advance of a Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions comprehensive strategy expected to be released next spring.

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy said in a news release in response to the report that her ministry has been working with other government ministries to meet the diverse needs of all youth in the province.

“We have heard from youth and families about how difficult it is to access information about available services and to navigate a fragmented and confusing system,” Darcy says.

“We will be looking closely at how young people’s needs are being met by the current continuum of care for substance use, from harm reduction through to treatment and recovery and social supports.”