Dr. Patricia Daly with Vancouver Coastal Health and Dr. Rolando Barrios of the BC Centre of Excellence for HIV/AIDS speak to media after announce the provincial rollout of a new program with the hope of curbing the staggering number of overdose deaths in B.C. (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)

B.C. opioid crisis to get same world-renowned treatment approach as HIV/AIDS

A program that focuses on treatment as prevention will roll out Jan. 17

A first-of-its-kind opioid addiction treatment program, first piloted in Vancouver, will soon roll out across the rest of the province as B.C. grapples with nearly 2,800 overdose deaths since 2017.

In a news conference Thursday, members of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and Vancouver Coastal Health released results from a one-year pilot program that took strategies used to reduce the spread of AIDS and implemented them on the streets of downtown Vancouver to combat opioid addiction.

READ MORE: Battle to beat AIDS offers lessons in fighting opioid crisis

The BOOST collaborative, which stands for Best-practice is Oral Opioid agoniSt Therapy, involved teams of medical providers and staff regularly checking on 1,100 patients to ensure they didn’t miss their daily medication such as methadone, suboxone or prescription heroin.

The program has so far found success, doubling the number of people keeping to their treatment plan. Roughly 79 per cent of patients stuck to treatment for three months.

According to data collected up to November 2017, 55,400 people were struggling with opioid addiction across the province, and only 36,000 had ever been on treatment.

Roughly 60 per cent of people in treatment withdrew in the first six months, and a further 10 per cent withdrew within a year.

Dr. Patricia Daly reviews overdose deaths per year across the province. (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)

The BC Centre for Excellence, also known as the BC-CfE, has been recognized worldwide for its “treatment as prevention” strategy to reduce HIV/AIDS.

Dr. Julio Montaner, creator of the anti-retroviral therapy called HAART and the centre’s director, said Thursday that programs that help to meet patients where they are and address their needs along the way are most effective in minimizing risk.

Medical providers on the front lines will have daily lists of patients who are overdue for medication, and reach out to them with reminders. They aim to make a real connection with patients by doing things like getting their cell phone numbers or learning their favourite parks to support them through treatment.

“This is only the beginning,” Montaner said. ” We intend to evolve all the way in implementing programs that are noble, that are different and challenge the system, because we know what needs to be done.”

ONE YEAR LATER: B.C.’s first public health emergency continues

READ MORE: B.C. on track to record same number of overdose deaths as last year

When the crisis was declared in 2016, 300 physicians were prescribing therapy treatment, Vancouver Coastal Health chief medical officer Dr. Patricia Daly.

Three times as many physicians are now doing that, but the number of overdose deaths are still increasing.

The total overdoses for 2018 has not yet been released, but data from the B.C. Coroners Service shows that B.C. is likely to see the same – if not more – as the year prior, which was the worst year for overdoses in the province’s history.

“The number of deaths related to the overdose crisis continues to be staggering,” Daly said. “However, these tangible improvements in care can have a massive effect on people who need such supports to stay on effective treatment.”

Once the program is in place around B.C. for a year, the goal is to keep 95 per cent of patients on treatment for more than three months.

BOOST is partly funded by Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program. The centre said it will not increase costs to B.C.’s overdose prevention strategy.


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

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