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The Globe and Mail

British Columbia invests in addictions program to tackle drug overdose crisis

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark speaks about shadow flipping in the real estate industry, in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday March 18, 2016.


A $5-million investment from the province will help formalize and expand the mandate of an addiction treatment research and training program led by one of B.C.'s top public health researchers.

Premier Christy Clark announced the new funding earlier this week as part of a total $10-million commitment to tackle the province's overdose crisis. Half will go to establishing the B.C. Centre on Substance Use, which has operated on a smaller scale for about a year as the Network for Excellence in Substance Dependence and Related Harms.

Evan Wood – medical director for addiction services at Vancouver Coastal Health and Providence Health Care, co-director of the Urban Health Research Initiative and a UBC professor – spearheaded the network and will serve as BCCSU's interim director.

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"He has been a leader, a fighter and a visionary on behalf of people who need help," Ms. Clark said of Dr. Wood in a speech to the Union of B.C. Municipalities on Wednesday.

The remaining $5-million will help fund existing initiatives, such as expanding supervised consumption services, fentanyl awareness forums and training police officers to administer naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. A joint task force of health and police officials struck in July is expected to identify other priority areas.

The BCCSU will comprise a new governance structure that includes representation from all health authorities, First Nations and people who use drugs.

One initiative already being developed by the BCCSU is a provincial guideline for the treatment of opioid addiction. This is expected to include details such as evidence-based approaches to detoxification, recovery services and the transition between methadone and suboxone.

An internal committee has reviewed the guideline, which is now out for peer review by international experts.

"B.C., like other areas in the world, hasn't traditionally had standards and guidelines and well-defined best practices for the treatment of different addictive disorders," Dr. Wood said in an interview on Thursday. "That has coincided with huge increases in our knowledge, in terms of the prevention and treatment of addiction. So, the knowledge, in terms of addiction, has gone way ahead of what the health-care system is delivering."

The centre will look to standardize best practices such as the recent move by Vancouver Coastal Health to prescribe suboxone as a first-line treatment for opioid addiction, as it has a better safety profile than methadone, which has long been the traditional treatment. BCCSU officials are also planning regional visits in the fall as part of their efforts to scale up opioid addiction care throughout the province.

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"We're really trying to break down the silos between people that have been working in the area of harm reduction and public health and people who have been working in recovery," Dr. Wood said. "We're trying to create a system that can help people stay alive, but also be supportive of engaging in evidence-based treatment with a view toward a recovery-oriented system of care."

Provincial Health Officer Perry Kendall, who leads the task force on overdose prevention with director of police services Clayton Pecknold, noted that B.C. has significant expertise in alcohol addiction, mental health, epidemiology and various harm-reduction measures.

With a report from Mike Hager

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