In Vancouver, some of the money will go toward expanding the Vancouver Coastal Health Overdose Outreach Team, where outreach workers and social workers work with clients to get them into detox, stabilization, treatment and prescription drug therapy. The funding will help it boost services in Powell River, Sea to Sky, the North Shore and Vancouver.
Elsewhere in the Lower Mainland, the funding will create new teams in Abbotsford and the Hope/Fraser Canyon areas. Victoria, Cowichan, Oceanside, Shuswap North Okanagan and South Okanagan will also get new teams.
Darcy acknowledged the team additions are “just one piece of the puzzle.” Integrated teams can try to help clients find detox, stabilization and long-term treatment beds, but they often face waiting lists and delays due to a limited number of beds.
B.C. announced $16 million last week for between 50 to 70 new treatment beds, to be administered by private and not-for-profit organizations through grants from the Canadian Mental Health Association. An additional $2.5 million will go toward expanding additional treatment and recovery bed providers.
Darcy said she’s also trying to tackle the bed issue through $40 million in partnerships with the First Nation Health Authority to open two urban Indigenous treatment centres, while also rebuilding or renovating six Indigenous treatment centres.
The cost of treatment beds can also remain a barrier to recovery. Government funds treatment beds for those on social assistance. But people with full or part-time jobs have to pay.
A 2008 report by the B.C. Centre for Substance Use recommended the government expand medicare to cover the cost of counselling, detox, residential treatment, methadone prescriptions and recovery supports.
Darcy said that is a long-term goal, but will more require more time.
“We are expanding access to publicly-funded services,” she said. “Do we have a ways to go? Yes we do. That is certainly a goal to get to a places where access to mental health and addictions care is totally publicly-funded. But we have a ways to go on that.”
Cheyenne Johnson, co-interim director with the B.C. Centre on Substance Use, said the extra funding for integrated teams is important, but B.C. is missing a broader plan on how all the components of outreach, treatment and a wider drug policy fit together to create an evidence-based addictions and substance use care system.
“Those teams are really important to just connect with people to offer them hope and treatment,” said Johnson.
“I think the (treatment bed) capacity issue is across the system. And really just in terms of the sheer numbers of individuals that are either using drugs and alcohol, have addictions and substance use disorder, in B.C. are so high we really need to look at the whole system and how it works together from prevention to recovery and everything in-between and continue to strategically invest.”
Johnson said government has done good work on bringing down cost barriers for opioid-replacement drug therapy, as well as clean drug alternatives, which are covered under health care system.
VICTORIA — B.C. is boosting the number of substance use teams that combine nurses, counsellors, social workers and outreach staff to help those suffering from addictions.
Mental Health Minister Judy Darcy announced Monday $4.27 million in new permanent annual funding to create seven new integrated addictions teams, and expand nine existing teams.
“We know that four out of five that overdose have had a connection with the health care system the year before they died,” said Darcy.
“That’s a very high number. But then the system lost track of them, they didn’t continue to support them. So the idea of these substance use integrated teams is they would be teams of health care providers, nurses, social workers, Indigenous support workers, peers, a variety, and their goal is to connect people to treatment.”
The new and enhanced teams will be in 16 communities, and run by local health authorities. Darcy said the goal is to address gaps in the existing system, whether that be in helping people connect to services, addressing their housing concerns during COVID-19 or help them access safe prescription alternatives to contaminated illegal street drugs during the ongoing overdose crisis.