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Vancouver police call for prescription heroin amid ongoing overdose crisis

Major gaps in health funding for addictions treatment is taking a huge toll on frontline workers and communities, says a new VPD report.

A man injects heroin at a safe injection site in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in December, 2016. Volunteers are present to give first aid in case drug users overdose.

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

A man injects heroin at a safe injection site in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in December, 2016. Volunteers are present to give first aid in case drug users overdose.

“We require a long-term health strategy that does more than revive people temporarily with naloxone and send them back to the street to continue their addiction.”

The Vancouver Police Department is calling — urgently — for more treatment options, including opioid replacement therapies such as prescription heroin, as a deadly overdose crisis continues to kill over 100 people every month in British Columbia.

In a report published May 24, the VPD says there are major gaps in health funding for addictions treatment, and it’s taking a huge toll on police officers, other frontline workers and the communities affected. A huge problem for police is being unable to immediately connect people with treatment options after an overdose.

The report notes that the VPD has adopted the four pillars strategy for substance abuse: prevention, harm reduction, enforcement and treatment.

While areas such as harm reduction are relatively well-funded, “limited implementation and lack of funding and availability have resulted in treatment being one of the least supported of the pillars.”

The report identifies a number of gaps in the system: There are not enough recovery beds or spots in treatment programs for police officers to immediately refer someone to a program.

Opioid replacement treatment programs at “innovative” clinics like Crosstown Clinic (the first clinic in North America to offer prescription heroin) aren’t nearly big enough to meet the need, and the provincial and federal government support needed to expand those services has so far not been forthcoming.

There’s also a “glaring gap” in information when it comes to addiction care and tracking wait lists, leading to patients being discharged without being linked to ongoing treatment.

“Research has provided evidence-based options for treatment that reduce overdose deaths,” the report concludes. “However, without sufficient access to treatment on demand, these options cannot be implemented.”

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