British Columbia and Ottawa to sign health agreement

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VICTORIA:  A source in British Columbia’s government says the province and the federal government will sign an agreement on health funding that includes extra money to help address the opioid overdose crisis.

The official says the deal amounts to a three per cent federal funding increase and includes 10-year agreements to fund mental-health and home-care initiatives.

The government source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, says the initiatives bring the total funding increase for health to about 4.4 per cent.

The federal and B.C. governments have scheduled a news conference for Friday in Richmond, B.C.

The agreement is a departure from B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake’s repeated comments that the province would not negotiate a separate deal with the federal government after talks between the provinces, territories and Ottawa broke down in December.

The group 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 opioid crisis in British Columbia has been devastating, taking a record 914 lives last year.

Health and government officials have scrambled to slow the death toll, but have been frustrated by the appearance of even stronger opioids into the province.

The 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.

By Dirk Meissner, THE CANADIAN PRESS