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B.C. aims to allow young people to be kept in hospital after an overdose

B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy speaks during a news conference at Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday December 1, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The B.C. government on Tuesday introduced amendments to the Mental Health Act that would allow hospitals to keep young people in hospital immediately following an overdose.

The bill, if passed, would allow hospital patients under the age of 19 who suffer from severe substance use problems to be admitted for stabilization care for up to 48 hours after a life-threatening overdose.

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The changes allow health officials to provide medically necessary care and observation that are currently unavailable for a young person who has suffered an overdose — something child and youth advocates have been pushing for.

In 2016 and 2017, Kimberly Christianson’s teenage daughter, Chelsea, who’d been suffering from depression, had at least four overdoses following which she was discharged from the hospital without her mother being notified or other supports.

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Three weeks before the girl fatally overdosed while living in Kelowna, Christianson said, she’d asked for help at the hospital, but had been sent away.

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“I found out later that each time, she was kept for only a short time and then released on her own with no further follow-up or interventions to prevent subsequent overdoses,” the mother said.

“This legislation is an encouraging development in increasing support for youth and families who are struggling with substance use issues. I am hopeful that this will be a positive step in ensuring that the tragedy that happened to my daughter may be prevented for another family.”

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Health providers also would have the ability to hold someone in hospital until their decision-making capacity is restored for a maximum of seven days.

The short-term emergency care will be provided at hospitals with a designated psychiatric or observation unit.

“Experts are telling us this emergency measure is vital to ensure the immediate safety of young people in crisis,” Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy said.

“We are taking that advice and we are enabling hospitals to extend the care they provide to help youth stabilize and leave the hospital with a clear plan to access voluntary services and supports in the community.”

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