More than 90 people in active addiction have been treated at a new care facility at St. Paul’s Hospital in about three months, and plans to expand the program are already underway.
The Road to Recovery initiative, announced in March, launched in September in what were old research offices at the Vancouver hospital. It started with 14 detox beds and added another 20 transition beds in October.
By March 2025, the province and its partners hope to have 25 detox beds, 20 transition beds and 50 treatment and recovery beds available in what they describe as a “seamless continuum of care.”
“One of the problems we’ve had with our health-care system in the province when it coms to addiction in particular, is that when people have that moment of clarity they’re told, ‘OK, but you need to wait,'” Premier David Eby said at a press conference Monday.
“That moment of clarity can pass — you can run into somebody you know, circumstances can change or you can get quite sick, and that opportunity to change a life passes. That is the key challenge that’s in front of us.”
More than 13,000 people have died from the toxic drug supply since B.C. first declared a public health emergency in 2016. Unregulated drug toxicity is the leading cause of death in the province for people between 10 and 59, accounting for more deaths than homicides, suicides, accidents and natural diseases combined, according to the B.C. Coroners Service.
In October alone, that office found that 189 people died from overdoses — an average of more than six deaths per day.
Jennifer Whiteside, mental health and addictions minister, said she has toured the province meeting with service providers and folks struggling with active addiction, and witnessed “the utmost humanity in terms of how we are seeking to care for people who are struggling with addictions issues.”
“What we are unfolding here is really at the end of the day is about dignity and about valuing the lives of every single person who needs the kind of care that they’re getting here,” she said at the hospital on Monday.
Dr. Seonaid Nolan, an addictions medicine physician at Providence Health Care, said the Road to Recovery program involves quicker assessments, triage and referral, thorough treatment programs, and detailed after-care plans. Those at the most serious risk of severe and complicated withdrawal can be admitted to a detox bed “almost instantaneously,” she added.
The province is spending $23.7 million on the Road to Recovery annually as it struggles to make meaningful strides in a crisis that, for the third year running, has claimed more than 2,000 lives in a single year.
It has almost completed its first year in a pilot program with decriminalization — an exemption to the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that as of Jan. 31, allowed adults to possess small amounts of certain drugs for personal use. Since decriminalization took effect, however, the province and various B.C. municipalities have sought additional restrictions on where such substances can be used, citing public health and safety concerns.
In October, the New Democrats proposed new legislation that, if passed, would prohibit drug use at beaches, sports fields and parks, as well as within six metres of a bus stop or the entrance to a business or residence. It would add to a previous restriction put forth by the province that prohibits drug use within 15 metres of playgrounds, spray and wading pools, and skate parks.
While many have applauded those efforts to keep drugs and drug paraphernalia away from “where children play,” some advocates have raised concerns they will steer users into using alone, thereby increasing their risk of death from an overdose.
Editor’s Note: This is a corrected story. A previous version contained an error in a quote from Minister Whiteside.
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