Mobile Response Team helps save lives on frontlines of overdose crisis

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SURREY: In its first year of operation, British Columbia’s overdose Mobile Response Team (MRT) has provided critical incident support and training to more than 6,000 people who work on the front lines of British Columbia’s overdose crisis.

The MRT provides immediate, short-term support to first responders, front-line workers, and people with lived experience as they work to respond and prevent drug overdoses and deaths.

“In every community I visit, people on the front lines are working tirelessly to save lives, and connect people to the care they deserve. They are doing heroic work, and are deeply deserving of the professional support provided by the Mobile Response Team,” said Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “Our government recognizes the critical importance of keeping people physically and emotionally healthy as they respond to this public health emergency.”

The MRT is part of Health Emergency Management BC, which is a program of the Provincial Health Services Authority. Workers who are exposed to frequent traumatic events may be susceptible to compassion fatigue, trauma, and other stress-related harm. The MRT helps people address the cumulative stress of their jobs during the overdose crisis.

Support can take the shape of one-on-one defusing or debriefings following overdoses, overdose deaths or critical incidents or educational sessions. The B.C. government has committed $1.7 million in funding, in both 2018-19 and 2019-20, to ensure the sustainability of this crisis response.

“People on the front lines are reporting consistent and high levels of stress and trauma as a result of responding to overdoses,” said John Lavery, executive director of Health Emergency Management BC. “The provincial overdose Mobile Response Team is providing critical supports vital to the crisis response.”

The MRT has travelled to 57 communities throughout B.C., to assist more than 593 agencies and community groups with customized supports for their front-line staff, as well as development of overdose response protocols. The team is made up of 13 members with diverse backgrounds and skills, including counsellors, psychologists, traumatologists and first responders.

The MRT works collaboratively with the provincial Overdose Emergency Response Centre (OERC), and supports frontline agencies in their resiliency protocols.

“People from all walks of life have come together to help save lives from overdose during this unprecedented crisis,” said Carolyn Sinclair, MRT program manager. “Through the MRT, we are trying to make sure that workers have the support, tools, skills and opportunities within their agencies to cope with the immense grief, pain and loss they experience while helping others on the front lines.”

The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions is working with multiple partners on a wide range of actions spearheaded by the OERC and Regional Response and Community Action Teams in the communities hardest hit by the overdose crisis. These teams are working to quickly intervene and save lives, and to put services in place to better support people on a path to treatment and recovery.

The Provincial Health Services Authority plans, manages and evaluates selected specialty and provincewide health-care services throughout B.C., working with the five geographic health authorities to deliver solutions to improve the health of British Columbians.