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First-of-its kind program aims to stop overdose deaths across B.C.

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Another tool in the fight against the opioid crisis across B.C. has been unveiled.

Vancouver Coastal Health has teamed up with the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS to roll out Best Practices in Oral Opioid Agonist Therapy (BOOST) province-wide to combat overdose deaths.

The goal of the 18-month pilot project is to stop people from dying by keeping patients in Opioid Agonist Treatment (OAT) — which is when patients get regular, prescribed doses of methadone — longer.

The program asks health care professionals to be more proactive in making sure patients don’t miss one day of treatment.

It’s modelled off of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS’ Treatment As Prevention Strategy, which has had a lot of success in stopping deaths related to the disease and transmission.

A pilot of the BOOST program launched in Vancouver in 2017, and doubled the amount of people who stayed in treatment for more than three months.

The first-of-its kind in Canada program comes nearly three years after B.C. declared an opioid health emergency.

Dr. Rolando Barrios, the centre’s senior medical director, says it involves tracking patients who don’t show up for appointments and uses a team of doctors, nurses and social workers to follow them through treatment to help with their needs such as housing and employment.

The pilot at 17 clinics in Vancouver involved 1,100 patients and showed seven out of 10 of them stayed in treatment after three months, up from three people, as part of a program that prescribes substitute opioids to curb drug cravings and ward off withdrawal symptoms.

Barrios says retaining people who are addicted to opioids like heroin and fentanyl in treatment is the biggest hurdle in the overdose crisis that has claimed thousands of lives.

He says the expansion of the pilot involves simple steps such as reminding patients when their medication is about to expire and having pharmacies connect with health-care teams when people don’t pick up their medications.

Since Jan. 1, 2016, more than 3,400 people have died of illicit drug overdoses in B.C.

In one year’s time, those behind the program hope to have 95 per cent of clients on an OAT prescription, as well as have 95 per cent of those clients stay on OAT for longer than three months.

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