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.

Just Posted

No taxes paid by Neucel, Doug Bondue Arena in Port Alice closes

“Neucel owes us a million dollars and it’s pretty hard to stay status quo when you’re short a million.”

Dragonboat society requests new location for 80 square foot storage shed in McNeill

“Part of my concern for using lot B is that it could become a parking lot for them…”

Klatt a force on the field – helps Bantam A Tyee’s win provincials

David Klatt played in every game last weekend down in Nanaimo.

Port McNeill releases in-depth Beach Drive landslide report

“It’s very positive,” said the town’s Public Works Foreman Julian Allen.

Bood votes in favour of wage increase for incoming mayor

If you asked anyone “to take a 5.3 per cent pay cut, no one would take that.”

A look at B.C. wildfire smoke from space

NASA provides a timelapse of smoke covering B.C. from space

Man plows truck into Houses of Parliament in London

UK police treat Parliament crash as terrorism, man arrested

Child dies in boating incident in Okanagan

A North Vancouver family was boating on Kalamalka Lake in Vernon when the incident occured

B.C. Wildfires 2018: Province calls for federal aid

More fires have burned in B.C. already this year than did in all of 2017

Kayak in Indian Arm waters off B.C.’s Deep Cove and feast on famous doughnuts

About a half hour drive from Vancouver, Deep Cove is a great kayaking spot for locals and tourists

Smokey skies across Vancouver Island expected to last until Wednesday

The province of B.C. has issued a special bulletin for all of Vancouver Island

Child, 4, attacked by cougar near Fernie

The BC Conservation Officer Service said it happened while the family was fishing

Trans Mountain pipeline protesters practise resisting police at Camp Cloud

Last week, a Supreme Court judge granted the City of Burnaby an injunction ordering protesters to remove everything from the site

Gun used in Fredericton killings is legal, man had licence

Police Chief Leanne Fitch said the long gun is commonly available for purchase, and is not a prohibited or restricted weapon

Most Read