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Addiction treatment a hot business in B.C. as thousands look for help

August 10th, 2010 · 10 Comments

For years I covered drug-addiction issues in the Downtown Eastside and people would inevitably talk about the lack of addiction treatment in the province. Other critics would also say that, out of Vancouver’s alleged Four Pillars approach to drugs, only one pillar was really getting funding: harm reduction.

That always puzzled me because a lot of money seemed to go to enforcement, in the millions every year spent on police doing nothing but drug busts and street patrols. Prevention, yes, I could see how that was underfunded for sure. But treatment — well, I just didn’t know. How much treatment was there really?

My story this month in BCBusiness is what I found when I went looking. It’s true that there’s a tight funnel when it comes to getting a provincially funded treatment bed. 

In my research, I found that according to national surveys, about three per cent of people in B.C. report having serious drug problems, which works out to more than 120,000 in the province.

Yet in a region like Fraser Health, for example, the biggest health authority in the province serving 1.2 million, meaning potentially 36,000 with drug problems, there are 155 residential treatment beds that can serve up to about 1,000 people a year. Not everyone needs a residential program — in fact, too many times people spend far too much money on a residential program that is not needed — and the province’s research is showing that walk-in treatment programs can be as effective as residential for many.

But 1,000 spots for 36,000 people still means enormous waiting lists for those who need the intensive boost of residential treatment.

That’s just on the government side, though. When it comes to what’s available if you have an employee-benefit program or a family willing to pay the bills, B.C. is swarming with addiction treatment. Only problem: no one has a definitive answer on which works and which one doesn’t.

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