In 2016, British Columbia set a record. It was the deadliest year on record for drug users with over 900 lives lost due to the emergence of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, W-18 and the even deadlier carfentanil. In April of that same year, the province declared a public health emergency to mobilize resources in the war against opioids. It is a war taking place not just on the streets of Vancouver’s DTES – often referred to as Canada’s poorest postal code – but in suburban homes and workplaces. It is not just a disease of the poor or the addicted. It is a disease that knows no boundaries.
A response plan was developed focusing on attacking the issue from several angles—preventing overdoses, encouraging safer drug use, and providing treatment options for people with substance use disorders. This took many forms, from the opening of “illegal” overdose prevention sites to the deployment of the Mobile Medical Unit and creation of an Overdose Prevention Outreach Team along with peer programs like Spikes On Bikes. The word naloxone, once mysterious to most, has become almost a household word in BC.
The communications challenge was more than just showcasing the work being done by all involved. It was how to reach an audience that was not just outside the mainstream (the homeless and those struggling with mental health and substance use issues), but those who may not identify themselves as being at risk – or want to be identified as being at risk.
We also saw unprecedented media interest from local, national and international media. VCH’s Insite, the only legal supervised injection site in North America (and a site I was hands-on in developing the stakeholder and media communication for back in 2003), was back in the news more than ever as an example of how to prevent overdoses death through providing supervised care while injecting drugs. Since opening, Insite has seen 18,093 registered users make 3,476,722 visits. There have been 40,245 clinical treatment visits and 4,922 overdose interventions. Out all of this, not a single death has been reported.
Presenter: Clay Adams, ABC, APR
As Vice President of Communications & Public Affairs for BC’s largest health authority, Clay oversees an award-winning team responsible for strategic communications and planning, media relations, issues management, stakeholder communications and community engagement.
He began his career as a tabloid journalist in his native Melbourne, Australia before shifting to the world of communications and public relations with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation where he would go on to become National Head of Television Publicity.
From there, greater challenges – and romance – drew him to Canada where he landed in health care communications, firstly in various roles in Alberta and then westward to Vancouver. A founding member of the Vancouver Coastal Health communications team in 2001, he has held the VP position since 2006. Clay has established himself as one of the most experienced health care communicators in Canada and received several regional, national and international awards for communications excellence. He is currently on the Board of the CPRS Vancouver chapter and is a past-president of the Health Care PR Association of Canada, now integrated with CPRS as the Health care Academy.
Away from work he is an Uber driver and ATM to his teenage princess Victoria, an ardent Vancouver Whitecaps fan, and spends whatever spare time he has cursing as he tries to get his 1972 Triumph Stag on the road.