'Good old boring work' can help addicts stay on treatment: study

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Published Jan. 17, 2019 3:24 p.m. ET
Updated Jan. 18, 2019 8:10 p.m. ET
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Following up on opioid users, reminding them to take their medication and keeping track of them as they overdose can double the chances that an addict will stay in treatment, according to a new a new study.

Inspired by similar programs that helped people with HIV and AIDS, and even public health initiaves that helped tuberculosis a generation ago, the “BOOST Collaborative” strategy is yet another tool that B.C. will have in the attempt to stop thousands more from dying in a poisoned opioid crisis.

“Most people think this is some sort of revolutionary idea we came up with. The answer is no,” said Dr. Julio Montaner of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV and AIDS, which partnered with Vancouver Coastal Health on the research.

“We can do this. It requires good old boring work. We’re here to say we’re prepared to do it,” he said.

The BOOST collaborative stands for Best Practices in Oral Opioid AgoniSt Therapy, where health care teams across Vancouver worked to identify, diagnose and engage about 1,100 people in care.

Without this extra engagement, only about 30 to 40 per cent of patients were still on treatment after three months, the group’s figures show.

But with the regular follow-up and tracking, 73 per cent of patients were still on treatment after three months.

Part of that effect could be because of a personal connection that inspires people to change their lives, said Guy Felicella, a former addict who said he was an early user of the supervised-injection site Insite in 2003.

“When you treat people like human beings, powerful things happen,” Felicella said.

About 120 people die of illicit drug overdoses per month in B.C., which works out to about four a day. That’s a figure that has stayed the roughly same since a public health emergency was declared in April 2016, almost three years ago.

Without any interventions, that figure could have more than doubled, according to projections, said Dr. Patricia Daly of Vancouver Coastal Health.

“The good work you have done has prevented this crisis from being any worse,” she said.

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