Fraser Health unveils new team aimed at connecting drug users with support services

A person in addiction treatment takes a dose of methadone.
A person in addiction treatment takes a dose of methadone. AP File Photo/Kevin D. Liles

The Fraser Health Authority has created a team designed to act as a single point of access for people with addiction problems seeking treatment options and support services.

The team is one in a suite of new measures aimed at tackling the opioid overdose crisis, drawn from feedback from drug users themselves.

The health authority conducted a survey of 1,200 at-home drug users and their support networks back in May, and says it gleaned valuable insights from the results.

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“The innovative work that Fraser Health is doing to connect people to services quickly when they reach out for help is what makes the difference and saves lives of people living with addiction,” said Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy.

The new Substance Use Services Access Team will be available to family doctors and emergency room and hospital staff via a single phone number.

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Fraser Health Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Victoria Lee said the initiative was put into place after survey respondents said having a single point of contact was crucial for people who have decided to seek help.

“The other thing that was heartbreaking was that most people that had barriers talked about losing jobs, and that’s why they didn’t want to access care,” she said.

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The team will be made up of substance-use professionals, who can make referrals and answer questions about services.

Fraser Health says the team will also be able to provide confidential services such as individual counselling and family support, and can facilitate access to treatment for people who want it.

The authority is also expanding the mandate of its volunteer-staffed 24/7 crisis line (604-951-8855 / 1-855-820-7444), which will now also take calls from people who are in urgent need of help related to their substance-use problems.

“They have specially been trained to serve as that linchpin to do that initial assessment as well as co-ordination of services,” said Lee.

The line had previously functioned mainly as a touch-point for people dealing with mental-health crises.

READ MORE: New medical guidelines around opioid addiction praised by Vancouver overdose prevention staff

In addition, Fraser Health is expanding its Family Support Services program to include funding for education and support programs for family members of people with mental health and substance-abuse problems.

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It is also expanding its regional and community-based mental health and substance-use advisory committees, which report monthly to Fraser Health with public feedback on those issues. The health authority has added two new spaces in each of the 11 committees across its jurisdiction.

More than 620 people have died of suspected illicit drug overdoses in B.C. in 2018. Last year, overdoses killed nearly 1,450 people in the province.