RICHMOND, B.C.—British Columbia and the federal government have reached a 10-year, $1.4 billion health-funding agreement.
Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott says the funding includes $785 million for better home care and more than $650 million for mental-health initiatives.
B.C. has been at the epicentre of the overdose crisis caused by illicit opioids and Philpott also announced $65 million to combat the epidemic nationwide.
“In addition, in recognition of the severe impact this has had on British Columbia, we will be providing this province with the support of $10 million to help in its emergency response.”
The $65 million will support what communities across the country have asked them for: better lab testing, better toxicology, better data and surveillance, she said.
“We are taking an approach that will protect lives and protect the health of communities.”
The province said Friday that 116 people died last month as a result of illicit drug use, in addition to a record 914 people last year.
B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake said the new funding will provide much-needed help.
“We have in B.C. taken drastic action on the opioid crisis. Funding to date is approaching $100 million. It is a staggering amount of money, but (there is) a more staggering human toll that we’re talking about here.”
Up until now, Lake has repeatedly said the province would not negotiate a separate health-funding deal with the federal government after talks between the provinces, territories and Ottawa broke down in December.
They rejected a federal offer that would have poured an additional $25 billion over the next five years into health care, with money tagged specifically for mental health and home care.
Since then, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott has announced agreements with New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island.
Last month, Lake said he felt betrayed by the federal government’s divide-and-conquer approach over the negotiation of the new health accord after the Atlantic provinces signed agreements.
The current federal health transfers had been increasing by six per cent a year, but they are scheduled to fall to three per cent in April.
B.C., Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta have called for an annual 5.2 per cent increase in federal health spending, saying that number is based on research done by the parliamentary budget office and The Conference Board of Canada.
Health and government officials have scrambled to slow the death toll of B.C.’s opioid crisis, but have been frustrated by the appearance of even stronger opioids into the province.
The provincial government has responded to the crisis by increasing access to the overdose-reversing drug naloxone and creating overdose prevention centres, where people can use drugs under the supervision of people who are trained to respond to overdoses.
Lake has said the death toll would have been much higher if not for the measures taken by the province and the often heroic efforts of first-responders and others who provided aid.
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