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B.C. acting on jury’s recommendations for drug addiction treatment

Michelle Jansen, whose son Brandon Jansen died of a drug overdose at a government treatment centre, holds a photograph of him at her home in Coquitlam, B.C. on Jan. 26, 2017.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake says the province is already acting on many of the recommendations made by a coroner's inquest that looked into the overdose death of Brandon Jansen, who died last March while a resident at a substance-abuse centre in Powell River.

And all of the jury's recommendations – which include expanded access to prescription heroin and treatments such as suboxone – will be taken into account as the province wrestles with an overdose crisis that left nearly 1,000 people dead last year.

"We want to make sure we continue to improve services to help people with addictions, so these [recommendations] will be important inputs into the work we are doing," Mr. Lake said on Thursday.

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He spoke in response to a reporter's question about the inquest while at the opening of an addictions clinic in Vancouver.

A coroner's inquest on Wednesday made 21 recommendations focused on reducing the toll from illicit-drug deaths, including new regulations for substance-use treatment facilities, standards of practice for treating people with opioid addictions and ready access to opioid-replacement interventions.

The recommendations were directed to the Ministry of Health and other regulatory bodies, including the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C., as well as to the CEO of the Sunshine Coast Health Centre, where Mr. Jansen had sought treatment before his fatal overdose, and to CEOs of all licensed substance-use treatment centres.

The sole recommendation related to the Sunshine Coast treatment centre was to "review security procedures and training with all staff."

There were three recommendations for CEOs of licensed facilities: review guidelines for cellphones; ensure baggage is searched; and consider greater security measures for monitoring clients and visitors.

For Mr. Jansen's mother, Michelle Jansen, the recommendations directed at Sunshine Coast fell short.

"There were a whole number of things that were done wrong at the treatment centre, from staffing, security, to his [Mr. Jansen's] medical treatment, everything – so I found the recommendations put forward were lacking," Ms. Jansen said.

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The jury found Mr. Jansen died from a "mixed opioid drug overdose" and classified his death as accidental.

Ms. Jansen says text messages on her son's phone show he obtained drugs from another client at the centre.

He died in March – before the centre's chief medical officer was granted authorization, in July, to prescribe suboxone, now considered the front-line treatment for opioid addiction in British Columbia.

On Thursday, Mr. Lake said about 500 physicians and nurse practitioners have been trained in prescribing and using suboxone over the past six months.

Sue Hammell, mental-health and addictions critic for the NDP, said the recommendations are positive but don't go far enough.

"The first thing that jumps out at me is that there's not a recommendation to significantly expand the number of treatment beds," she said.

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The jury's recommendations include one to "provide, develop and improve adolescent substance-abuse treatment facilities."

But, "there's no mention of increasing the number of treatment beds in general, other than adolescents – and that is absolutely needed," she said.

The Liberal government promised in 2013 to add 500 treatment beds by 2017 and says it is on track to hit that goal this year.

Ms. Hammell also questioned why the province has not moved more quickly on some issues raised by the inquest jury, such as increasing access to prescription heroin.

Health Canada changed its regulations in September to allow physicians to prescribe heroin to people who are severely addicted to opioids.

Despite that, there is still only one site – Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside – that provides diacetylmorphine, or prescription heroin, treatment.

"So don't say the federal government needs to do more, when they've done something you've not taken advantage of," Ms. Hammell said.

The B.C. government this month called on Ottawa to declare a national public-health emergency, but federal Health Minister Jane Philpott said her government is already doing all it can and that the Emergencies Act would not grant it any powers it does not already have.

With a report from Andrea Woo

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