(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

All Nations Driving Academy gets $360K boost from province

Terrace-based driving school bridges gap in services for remote northwest B.C. communities

Skeena Watershed reopened for recreational pink and coho

Four sections and tributaries remain closed

Skeena-Bulkley Valley candidates react to finding Trudeau broke ethics law

The election campaign is heating up before the writ has even dropped

Burns Lake golfers to help end world hunger

Burns Lake residents will bring together charity and golf at the Grip… Continue reading

Houston area ski club proposes new community forest

Morice Mountain has ‘huge untapped potential’

QUIZ: How much do you remember about Woodstock?

Weekend music festival in Bethel, New York, was held 50 years ago

Advocates ‘internationalize’ the fight to free Raif Badawi from Saudi prison

Raif Badawi was arrested on June 17, 2012, and was later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for his online criticism of Saudi clerics

RCMP, search crews hunt for 4-year-old boy missing near Mackenzie

George went missing early Saturday afternoon

Canadian entrepreneurs turning beer byproduct into bread, cookies and profits

Some breweries turn to entrepreneurs looking to turn spent grain into treats for people and their pets

Canada ‘disappointed’ terror suspect’s British citizenship revoked

Jack Letts, who was dubbed “Jihadi Jack” by the U.K. media, has been detained in a Kurdish prison for about two years

Chrystia Freeland condemns violence in Hong Kong, backs right to peaceful assembly

There have been months of protests in the semi-autonomous region

B.C. VIEWS: Log exports and my other errors so far in 2019

Plastic bags, legislature overspending turn out differently

Most Read