(Providence Healthcare)

Vancouver program provides ‘window of opportunity’ to addiction treatment

Patients get a three-day supply of Suboxone and easy-to-understand instructions from a nurse

A Vancouver emergency department has become the first in Canada to give overdose patients take-away packs of medication aimed at warding off withdrawal symptoms and getting them into treatment to prevent deaths from tainted opioids.

Dr. Andrew Kestler, a co-lead of the program at St. Paul’s Hospital, said patients get a three-day supply of Suboxone and easy-to-understand instructions from a nurse before they’re discharged.

The idea is to prevent barriers to treatment because many patients are unable to get a prescription filled at a pharmacy after they leave the hospital, Kestler said Wednesday, adding severe physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms can make it impossible for people to seek help.

“We know that of people who have died of an overdose in British Columbia, over 50 per cent of those had visited an emergency department in the last year before their death,” he said.

Five women and three men have so far been given the medication in the emergency department, Kestler said.

“We’re hoping to translate our experience at St. Paul’s to the rest of the province and the rest of the country.”

Patients from the hospital can also access a clinic in the same building so they can be connected with services in the community before being followed up by an overdose outreach team that can link them to a doctor.

The two-year pilot project will be evaluated by the BC Centre on Substance Use in the province, which has the highest number of overdose deaths in Canada.

Mark Haggerty, a peer support worker at the Rapid Access Addiction Clinic at St. Paul’s, said he beat an addiction to alcohol and cocaine and understands there’s a small window of opportunity to get people into treatment, often after they’ve had a wake-up call from an overdose.

“If they have the opportunity to get on Suboxone right away that will help. If they have to wait 10 hours to come to a clinic or just to wait to get treatment a lot of things can happen. A lot of things can happen in a couple of hours, when people get another fix.”

Drug users often fear getting treatment because they face stigma as “low-life addicts,” even from medical staff, though that’s been slowly changing as addiction has become better understood, Haggerty said.

Dr. Keith Ahamad, the other co-lead of the program, said the overdose crisis demands a change in emergency-room culture in order to save lives and handing people a prescription is the wrong approach.

“Many places don’t even do that, which is kind of shocking,” said Ahamad, who is also a researcher with the BC Centre on Substance Use.

“We’re in the midle of a public health emergency and it really needs to be all hands on deck. If there were any other health emergency like this emergency departments really would be the beacon of where to get care. They’re open 24/7 and they’re staffed with all sorts of health-care professionals,” he said.

“The culture around addiction treatment in the health-care system for decades has really been one of ignore. And if we do anything the onus is on the patient to try and navigate a system and find care somewhere and maybe we give them a number to call and they’re told on a certain day within a few weeks they can maybe make an appointment somewhere.”

READ MORE: B.C. moves to curb high number of overdose deaths by recent inmates

READ MORE: B.C. centre at forefront of treating mental health and addiction together

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Nine fires burning in West Kootenay

All fires considered to be lightning caused.

Castlegar mayor releases FCM itinerary

Bruno Tassone delivers promised report on activities at Quebec City municipal conference

West Kootenay afternoon storms spark fires

Lots of thunder and lightning, and little rain, as system moves through region

Rainbow Road

Nakusp cuts ribbon on rainbow crosswalk

Nakusp cops warn of firebug

Call for assistance to stop person before a major fire starts

10 facts about Father’s Day

Did you know that the special day for dads was first celebrated in 1910?

Bombers down B.C. Lions 33-23 in season opener

Former Lion Andrew Harris leads Winnipeg with 148 rushing yards

Northern B.C. family remembers murdered Indigenous woman with memorial walk

Still no closure for Ramona Wilson’s family 25 years later

B.C. university to offer mentorship program for former youth in care

Students using the provincial tuition waiver program will soon be able to form a community at KPU

You might not know these B.C. records are public

Hired a lawyer to file a civil claim? Those are published online

B.C. bus driver loses case to get job back after texting while driving full bus

An arbitator ruled that Tim Wesman’s phone usage was a “a reckless disregard for public safety”

Revamped B.C. Lions set to battle veteran Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The Lions’ first test of the season will be a big one

No business case for Trans Mountain expansion, says former environment minister

Cabinet is expected to announce its decision on the expansion of the Alberta-to-B.C. pipeline by Tuesday

LETTER: British Columbia’s forest industry crisis being made worse

Andrew Wilkinson warns of regulatory overload by John Horgan’s NDP

Most Read