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Interior Health jeopardizing crucial services, addiction centre says

Health authority says services being integrated “into the continuum of care”
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Pathways Addictions Resource Centre executive director Daryl Meyers said Interior Health Authority has decided not to renew its contract with the facility after five decades.

Changes to addiction services management in the Okanagan are a recipe for disaster, says the director of a Penticton drug addiction help centre that faces an uncertain future after the Interior Health Authority let its contract with the facility lapse.

Pathways Addictions Resource Centre executive director Daryl Meyers said IHA has decided not to renew its contract with the facility after five decades, and move addiction services in-house. She said the organization helps about 1,000 people a year.

She thinks the changes are a step in the wrong direction.

Meyers said the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions is downloading responsibilities to the five health authorities.

“When it comes to addiction, it’s not one size fits all,” Meyers said. “Your recovery has to be based on you. A medical model when it comes to addiction and substance abuse just does not work.”

But, said IHA in a statement, the move is being made to integrate addiction counselling services “into the continuum of care.”

“This will enable us to expand, strengthen and increase programs for people who need them,” the statement said, noting the same approach is being taken throughout the Interior Health region.

“We can assure the community that no services are being reduced, in fact programs will increase, and we are determined to make client transition seamless from Pathways to Interior Health,” IHA said.

The authority said it’s making investments to support clients of mental health and substance use services, including enhancements in local primary care and enhanced harm reduction and overdose response services. 

“Integrated treatment teams are working throughout IH to embed multidisciplinary outreach to people who need flexible support that works for them. New treatment beds are coming this spring to serve youth experiencing substance use issues.

Meyers, however, said Pathways is a grassroots, community organization with necessary low visibility for clients needing its services.

She said people would think twice about going into government services due to stigma around addiction. As well, she said, some are not happy about government having access to addiction information in their files.

Asked if IHA understands addiction, Meyers said, “No, absolutely not. They don’t understand it at all. They use all the buzzwords.”

Meyers is also concerned that the IHA won’t be equipped to handle alcohol addictions.

“Pathways recognizes everyone is disturbed about the overdose numbers but that is just a very small percentage of the clients we serve,” Meyers said. “Alcohol is still the No. 1 drug that brings people through the door and the deaths from alcohol are staggering as well. Staff hope that alcohol use disorder clients will receive the same service once the transition takes place.”

Further, Meyers said, Pathways has not been contacted by Victoria about the situation.

B.C.’s April 20 budget promised 195 new addiction treatment beds, on top of hundreds more promised earlier.

Minister of Mental Health and Addiction Sheila Malcolmson promised $45 million for addictions assistance on the April 15 fifth anniversary of the declaration of the opioid health crisis anniversary. She said funding would go to health authorities to be used at their discretion.

Pathways offers outpatient services including individual counselling, men’s and women’s groups, and services for people whose lives are being affected by someone else’s use.

It is also a harm reduction proponent, hosting an opioid agonist therapy clinic and also provides training and distribution of naloxone and take home drug testing kits.

IHA said access to opioid agonist treatment is expanding, with the first cohort of Interior Health’s nurse prescribers for Suboxone having just completed training.

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Note: An earlier version of this story reported that Interior Health was closing Pathways Addictions Resource Centre. In fact, Pathways is an independent facility funded only partly through IHA.