Health Minister Terry Lake

Leading researchers get $8 million boost to combat opioid crisis

The B.C. Centre on Substance Use receives $7 million from B.C. government, $1 million from Vancouver’s St. Paul's Hospital Foundation.

The B.C. Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) receives a multi-million dollar boost from the province and St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation, to fund research intended to combat the province’s opioid crisis.

Health Minister Terry Lake announced the new funding Tuesday morning at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.

“The BCCSU is already establishing itself as a world-class research centre, and has begun developing recommendations, resources and training that will help us improve the care and treatments for people struggling with substance use issues,” Lake said.

The new funding follows an announcement of $5 million in September, used as an endowment to recruit leading researchers and for the building of the new centre. Tuesday’s funding will be broken down as $5 million for further endowments, and about $2 million per year for ongoing operations of the centre, located in the Downtown Eastside.

Now that the province has addressed the emergency crisis of overdoses, through overdose prevention sites and further funding for first-responders, it’s time to look at what measures need to happen next, Lake said.

“While we continue to expand our harm reduction strategies, we have not forgotten an equally important area that will help us get to the bottom of this crisis, which is long-term treatment and prevention,” he said.

Hopes are that the centre will guide the province in navigating effective ways of combating opioid addiction, based on “the strength of evidence.”

Dr. Evan Wood, the new head of BCCSU said when it comes to research, looking to how the B.C. Centre for Excellence on HIV/AIDS handled the HIV crisis in the 1980s and ’90s is key.

“The centre is focused on education, research, and care,” he said.

“This centre is modelled after the successful BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, who integrated these [three] pillars,” he said.

RELATED: Battle to beat AIDS offers lessons in fighting opioid crisis

“I really do see in the next few years there’ll be a dramatic change,” Wood added.

Lake noted the devastating death tolls of 941 British Columbians dying from overdoses in 2016, and the confirmation of drug users ingesting carfentanil – an elephant tranquilizer 100 times more potent than fentanyl.

RELATED: Carfentanil confirmed in Lower Mainland through lab tests

Without safe consumption sites that were set up across the province in the last three months, he suspected the death toll would be higher.

“I know the death toll would be much, much higher had we – together – not taken these in some cases extraordinary measures to respond to this crisis.”

New guidelines discourage solitary solution

New protocols, released today and established by the BCCSU mark a shift away from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. as the body responsible for developing province-wide treatment protocols for the overdose crisis.

The new guidelines, set to replace the current protocols in June, discourage solitary withdrawal treatment and recommend buprenorphine and naloxone as first-line medications, and eventually lower-intensity treatments like take-home dosing.

Wood says two of the centre’s main areas of focus are clinical studies examining the efficacy of slow-release oral morphine, and research into offering better support for people in recovery so patients are not simply treated then discharged into the community without help or followup.

 

With files from The Canadian Press


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