Government is investing more than $16 million to increase addictions treatment services in the short term as part of the battle against the epidemic of illicit drug overdoses.
This will include additional residential treatment beds, intensive outpatient services and the removal of financial barriers for opioid addiction treatment medication.
“We are experiencing one of the most tragic health crises of our time,” said Health Minister Terry Lake. “But in this tragedy is a chance for us to turn a new page on how we help people with addictions. It’s crucial that people working to rebuild their lives have a range of affordable, easy-to-access services to support their journey every step of the way.”
Over the next year, up to 240 people with opioid addiction will receive intensive residential treatment in 60 additional new beds, including 20 for youth and 40 for adults. Another 200 people will have access to 50 intensive outpatient treatment spaces. These beds and outpatient spaces will target those who are most vulnerable and ready to seek treatment. Both treatment options will be 90-day programs, followed by a year of crucial follow-up care in the community, including weekly group counselling and access to counsellors when issues arise.
The Province has allocated $10 million for the new services, which will start opening in spring 2017. They are expected to be delivered by a combination of both private and health authority providers, depending on the outcome of the request for expressions of interest process. Contracts and service agreements will provide for a consistent model of care, aligned with health authorities’ guidelines and clinical requirements.
The 60 new beds are in addition to government’s commitment to open 500 new addiction treatment beds. More than 300 new substance-use beds have already been opened in the past three years, with 100 more on track to open by the end of January and the remainder online by March 31, 2017.
“Because residential treatment beds may not be the most appropriate treatment option for some people suffering from opioid addiction, it’s important that the Province has a range of options to support people, whatever their path to recovery,” said provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall, who is also co-chair of the Joint Task Force on Overdose Response. “Opioid substitution treatment is one of the most effective treatment options, and making it available to more people at no cost will be a critical tool in the Province’s overdose response strategy – because we know cost has been a barrier for some people.”
Additionally, the Province will provide 100% coverage for opioid substitution therapies to eligible British Columbians as of Feb. 1, 2017 under PharmaCare’s Plan G psychiatric medications program, which provides no-cost coverage to those with lower incomes. Individuals who qualify for MSP premium assistance (those with an annual income under about $42,000, or slightly higher if they have a dependent) would be considered eligible for no-cost buprenorphine/naloxone or methadone under Plan G. The Ministry of Health anticipates the initial cost of this expanded coverage to exceed $6 million a year. The cost is projected to grow as more physicians are trained to prescribe buprenorphine/naloxone and once anticipated treatment guidelines recommending buprenorphine/naloxone as the preferred treatment option for opioid addiction are issued in the coming months.
Health authorities have been working to expand access to opioid substitution treatment in response to the overdose emergency and have increased substance use supports, extended clinic hours and hosted education sessions to support physicians’ knowledge on prescribing opioid substitution treatments. Since Nov. 1, 2016, the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) has hosted five training sessions around the province with more than 500 health-care providers on how to treat patients who are addicted to opioids with Suboxone (or its generic version buprenorphine/naloxone). The BCCSU is working with addictions experts around the province on research, education and training, and treatment guidelines to make sure substance-use treatment is effective and evidence-based no matter where British Columbians access it in B.C.
Updated statistics released today from the BC Coroners Service show the number of illicit drug overdose deaths in December 2016 remained exceptionally high. Since the public health emergency was declared in April 2016, government and its partners have enacted many measures to combat the crisis.
Newly announced actions since the last provincial update on Dec. 19, 2016 include:
- Since December 2016, more than 20 overdose prevention sites have been established in some of B.C.’s hardest hit communities. The sites have had more than 5,000 visits, with staff reversing almost 100 overdoses. Island Health opened the province’s most recent site on January 16, 2017 – the third in Victoria – at 713 Johnson Street.
- The Province’s Mobile Medical Unit, which is currently stationed in the Downtown Eastside, has treated more than 600 overdose patients since it opened there on Dec. 13, 2016, to help relieve pressure on local emergency departments and paramedics.
- Progress for additional supervised consumption services continues:
- On Jan. 3, 2017, Island Health submitted the first of three planned applications for supervised consumption service locations in Victoria.
- On Jan. 13, 2017, Interior Health announced it will submit applications for mobile supervised consumption services for Kamloops and Kelowna.
- On Dec. 20, 2016, the provincial health officer met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss the opioid crisis and stress the importance of supervised consumption services and a co-ordinated national strategy.
- At a training workshop hosted by the Ministry of Education on Jan. 5-6, 2017, the provincial health officer led a presentation on the overdose crisis with 85 members of the education sector including superintendents and safe school coordinators from most school districts. The session included a discussion on naloxone kits in schools and resources for schools and teachers.
- BC Centre for Disease Control and regional health authorities continue to expand the Take Home Naloxone program:
- Naloxone is now available at no cost for people who are most likely to witness and respond to an opioid overdose.
- All RCMP detachments and municipal police departments are expected to be trained and carrying naloxone by early 2017.
- More than 22,000 no-charge naloxone kits have been distributed to date, with 417 locations providing kits in B.C., including 57 emergency departments, 10 corrections facilities and 61 First Nations sites serving 96 communities.
- An updated support resource that outlines best practices for pain management and treatment has been distributed to physician offices throughout the province through Doctors of BC.