Emergency crews responding to a drug overdose in Surrey. (Photo: Now-Leader file)

Treat opioid addiction as a chronic disease, says B.C. addictions expert

Lack of longterm care contributing to the 1,400 overdose-related deaths in B.C. last year

A lack of long-term care for drug overdose victims is hampering B.C.’s fight against the opioid overdose epidemic that claimed 1,400 lives last year alone.

BC Centre on Substance Use director Dr. Evan Wood said that although the national guidelines on addiction treatment released Monday have been piloted in B.C. since July, the province hasn’t implemented them to their full potential.

The problem, Wood told Black Press, is that the majority of the 1,400 people who died of opioid overdose-related causes didn’t receive the evidence-based treatment that could have saved their lives.

Currently, the burden is falling to first responders, and although Wood noted they’ve “done an admirable job,” he said treating the overdose crisis as an acute care issue isn’t solving the problem.

Unfortunately, once paramedics bring their patients to an emergency room, there’s little help for them there and first responders province-wide have expressed frustration that they see the same patients week after week.

“If someone is brought to an emergency room because they’ve been resuscitated from a non-fatal overdose, there’s simply nothing in terms of being able to start the medications, referrals to someone who knows how to treat opioid addiction care. It’s a system that still really needs to be developed,” he said.

LISTEN: Dr. Evan Wood on where addiction treatment is failing patients

At best, the patient is directed to a short-term overdose detox clinic that Wood said can do more harm than good.

“That’s usually a three- to four-day withdrawal off of opioids, and then they’ll be discharged without any further treatment or support,” Wood said.

The new guidelines are pushing for the practice to be nixed.

“Offering withdrawal management as an isolated strategy actually increases fatal overdoses,” he said.

Researchers found that without a long-term system in place, a short-term detox increases the risk of relapse, HIV and hepatitis C transmission and overdose deaths.

“A four-day detox where someone is discharged to the street? You’re better off doing nothing,” Wood said.

He said he’s starting to see shifts from the province on how it’s approaching addiction treatment.

“It’s been so neglected as a discipline in medicine. Most programs are mental health and addiction in name only.”

READ: Fentanyl-linked overdose deaths soar in B.C.

Conversely, Wood said, the escalating overdose crisis has brought the past inadequacies of B.C.’s opioid-addiction treatment into sharp focus and forced both the province and local health authorities to implement evidence-based treatments.

Wood blames the ‘war on drugs’ approach for pushing funding away from the healthcare system and towards the legal system.

“When you criminalize a disease and have a total criminal justice approach to a health issue, that makes it very difficult to address stigma,” said Wood.

“It’s reckoning time right now in Canada to look at all the unintended consequences of the war on drugs.”

Wood said he would like a study on how Portugal’s decriminalization of drugs could be applied in B.C.

In the early 2000s, Portugal, which had some of the highest overdose rates in the European Union, largely decriminalized drugs.

Wood said that treating addiction as a health issue instead of a criminal one has seen Portugal’s overdose rates become some of the lowest in the region, to the point that the country has backed away from supervised injection facilities because there aren’t enough people using intravenous drugs.


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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

Surrey bus driver tests positive for COVID-19

Routes he drove have not been disclosed

Surrey mayor denies property tax deferral motion

Councillor’s notice of motion for Surrey property taxes to be deferred until Dec. 2 out of order

Team refunds OK’d for cancelled Surrey Mayor’s Cup soccer tournament

The decision follows the amalgamation of the Central City Breakers club with Surrey Football Club

COVID-19: 4 new deaths, 25 new cases but only in Vancouver Coastal, Fraser Health

A total of 1,291 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus

COVID-19: Don’t get away for Easter weekend, Dr. Bonnie Henry warns

John Horgan, Adrian Dix call 130 faith leaders as holidays approach

COVID-19: Trudeau says 30K ventilators on the way; 3.6M Canadians claim benefits

Canada has seen more than 17,000 cases and at least 345 deaths due to COVID-19

RCMP call on kids to name latest foal recruits

The baby horses names are to start with the letter ‘S’

As Canadians return home amid pandemic, border crossings dip to just 5% of usual traffic

Non-commercial land crossing dipped by 95%, air travel dropped by 96 per cent, according to the CBSA

Logan Boulet Effect: Green Shirt Day calls on Canadians to become organ donors

While social distancing, the day also honours the 16 lives lost in the 2018 Humboldt Broncos Crash

COMMENTARY: Knowing where COVID-19 cases are does not protect you

Dr. Bonnie Henry explains why B.C. withholds community names

B.C. wide burning restrictions come into effect April 16

‘Larger open burns pose an unnecessary risk and could detract from wildfire detection’

B.C. secures motel, hotel rooms for COVID-19 shelter space

Community centres, rooms reserved for pandemic self-isolation

Most Read