(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

High winds could lead to dangerous snowmobiling conditions

Advice for staying safe on the mountains Family Day weekend

Clearwater Library hosting open house

Event takes place Feb. 15 from 2—4 p.m.

Road conditions for Feb. 15

Slippery sections on Highway 5

Man caught in fatal avalanche ID’ed as Alberta man in his 20s

Outdoor guides warn against high winds in the mountains Family Day weekend

VIDEO: Historic night in Red Deer as 2019 Canada Winter Games kicks off

Star-studded Opening Ceremony features athletes from across Canada

B.C. students win Great Waters Challenge video contest

Video, mural and song about saving the salmon claims the top prize

B.C. couple attacked with acid, slashed with knife in Vietnam

Warning, graphic images: Man has burns on 80 per cent of his body, slashed with knife

Flying squirrels found to glow pink in the dark, including two from B.C.

Squirrels from Hope and Abbotsford were included in the biologists’ database

Ontario police field complaints over Amber Alert for missing girl, 11, found dead

Some said the Amber Alert issued late Thursday for Riya Rajkumar disrupted their sleep

Names keep adding to vaccine petition started by B.C. mom

Maple Ridge mom started campaign to make vaccination a condition of attending school

Northern B.C. First Nation clan says ancient tools found at pipeline work site

Archeologists from the Smithsonian Institute estimate one of the stones found dates back up to 3500 years

Wilson-Raybould resignation stokes anger, frustration within veterans community

Liberals have had three veterans-affairs ministers — Kent Hehr, Seamus O’Regan and Wilson-Raybould

Most Read