Train healthcare providers and reduce stigma to tackle opioid crisis, says B.C. doctor

Involving drug users in conversation is key to finding solution, says Dr. Evan Wood

Vancouver paramedics work to revive an overdose victim. The federal budget includes plans to support training healthcare providers in evidence-based addiction care. (CBC)

This week, the federal government announced that it would make a $231-million investment to address the opioid crisis nationally, as part of the Liberal government’s budget.

The money would be spread over five years, and includes a $150-million emergency fund to launch treatment programs which will be divided among the provinces and territories based on need.

Here in B.C., the opioid crisis has reached a critical juncture and Dr. Evan Wood, director of the B.C. Centre on Substance Use, says he has faith the money the province receives will be put to good use.

Training healthcare providers in addiction care is at the top of Wood’s list of required actions to address the crisis.

The budget report states that the $150 million in emergency funding is meant to jumpstart “multi-year projects that improve access to evidence-based treatment services.”

Wood criticized the current methods of treating patients with addiction-related issues.

“Even if they’re having a non-fatal overdose and they have to be resuscitated to save their life, once that acute overdose is treated, people are shown the door of the ER,” Wood told On The Coast’s Gloria Macarenko.

“None of those systems that we would expect for any other disease are yet in place.”

According to the B.C. Coroners Service, more than 1,400 people died of an illicit drug overdose in the province last year with about 81 per cent of the suspected deaths involving fentanyl.

Reducing stigma

Wood also stressed the need to reduce stigma, which can prevent drug users from seeking treatment.

The budget report says that “these investments will help… educate more Canadians about the need to support those who seek treatment.”

Plans to launch “a public education campaign to address stigma that creates barriers for those seeking treatment” was listed as a key measure to be taken with the federal funding provided.

“It’s very difficult to address stigma when the disease and the behaviour that we’re talking about is still illegal,” Wood said.

“For people that are street-entrenched, or other vulnerable populations, we do need to look at some of the bigger issues when it comes to society’s response to drugs,” he said.

Wood thinks said drug users should be involved in the conversation about the ongoing crisis.

“We’re talking about it in a way that we’ve never before… I do see things starting to shift and ultimately I think when we’re talking about this next year, things will look different than they do now.”

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