B.C. Premier David Eby unveils promised 'road to recovery,' seamless addiction treatment program

“(It’s) is not about building new things, it’s about taking what’s already in operation and improving efficiency,” — Dr. Seonaid Nolan, addictions-medicine specialist, Providence Health Care.

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The B.C. government Monday unveiled the first instalment of the road to recovery seamless addiction treatment model it promised in March. The program has 34 beds, between detox and transition treatment, that has taken in 94 patients since it began in September.

Patients who desire help get in by calling the “access central” phone line, which kicks off a clinical assessment and referral to services, including detox, with a care team that follows them through transition-treatment beds and long-term treatment programs in the community.

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Premier David Eby said the idea is to close gaps between previously isolated elements of addiction treatment when drug-users reach “a moment of clarity when they’re ready to change their lives.”

Eby unveiled the initiative while B.C. remains in the grips of an overdose crisis related to a toxic drug supply, which claimed another 189 lives in October, according to B.C. Coroners Service preliminary numbers, and government is under pressure to improve access to treatment.

Road to recovery started with a 14-bed detox unit at St. Paul’s Hospital, which sends patients on to 20 transition recovery beds in the community and on to long-term treatment programs, with the province committing $23.7 million per year to support the work.

The St. Paul’s facility will be expanded to 25 detox beds, 20 transition beds and 50 treatment and recovery beds in place by the end of 2024, with hopes of expanding to other parts of the province.

“You have to start somewhere,” said harm-reduction and recovery advocate Guy Felicella. “So you have to look at where we’re starting and then where we need to get to.”

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Felicella was among the experts, working with the B.C. Centre on Substance Use, who refined the model in partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health and Providence Health Care.

Giving patients a single entry point to a system of care that will follow them through different levels of care “takes a lot of pressure off,” Felicella said.

“People have already got enough (going on) in their lives and pressure on focusing on to get better. Now this support really just helps catapult that to the direction that they need.”

Considering the need though, “it’s a great first step, but this needs to be increased consistently to meet the need where, imagine this, if it was as easy to access treatment and recovery as it was to access substances on the street,” Felicella said.

Neither Eby nor Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside had a timeline for when the model will be rolled out to other sites in the province, outside of saying “as quickly as we can,” according to Eby.

“We’re right now looking at expansion to other parts of the province,” Eby said. “I’ve been incredibly impressed with St. Paul’s, which has been able to stand this up so quickly.

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“We’ve dedicated $1 billion in the budget to support this kind of addictions care, not just in the Lower Mainland, but across British Columbia,” Eby said.

At St. Paul’s, the new system has allowed the hospital to reduce waiting times for detox from two to three weeks to two to three days, said addiction specialist Dr. Seonaid Nolan.

However, Nolan added that the new model isn’t just about detox, it’s also about getting the whole system to work better.

“What’s different about this new model of care is not about building new things, it’s about taking what’s already in operation and improving efficiency,” Nolan said.

Road to recovery does include an increase in treatment capacity, but also improves access to the province’s existing treatment options, including 3,277 publicly funded adult and substance treatment beds and comprehensive aftercare plans.

Nolan said it’s about making sure everyone who wants addiction care “can do it at the exact moment that they’re ready for it.”

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