(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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Woman comes home to ‘entirely different’ Victoria after cruise ship, military base quarantine

Melanie Sibbitt booked herself a last-minute vacation on a cruise ship hit by COVID-19

Victoria street nurse thanks public for outpouring of donations

Businesses and individuals donated gloves, masks, sanitizers and more to frontline workers

COVID-19: Victoria moves homeless into 35 hotel rooms across the city

Mayor pleads with residents to stay inside during pandemic

Wheelchair user asks people to leave space on sidewalks to socially distance

Wendy Cox says many people are not stepping off the sidewalk to allow her space

Victoria brewery uses 3D-printer to make face shields for health care workers

Phillips Brewing is teaming up with engineers to create single-use medical equipment

B.C. records first at-home death from COVID-19, but 70+ hospital patients have recovered

Total of 970 novel coronavirus cases in B.C., with the majority in the Lower Mainland area

BC Ferries able to restrict travel for sick passengers

Ferries working on schedule shifts to keep workers safe

COVID-19: A message from the publisher

We will be making some changes to our print editions during these unprecedented times

Canada expands 75% wage subsidy to COVID-19 affected businesses of all sizes: Trudeau

Program will provide up to $847 per week for each worker

Pay parking suspended at B.C. hospitals due to COVID-19

Temporary free parking reduces need for keypads, contact

Helping those at risk, one piece of paper at a time through ‘isolation communication’

Simple paper tool during pandemic making its way across Canada thanks to social media.

‘Back to school, in a virtual way’ for B.C. students in COVID-19 pandemic

Province adds online resources to help parents at home

Canadian ferry operators call for inclusion in COVID-19 travel restrictions

Domestic travel restrictions should include ferries, operators say

Most Read