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Harm reduction the focus of addictions services in Penticton, says Interior Health

Interior Health hopes to match services with a person’s situation and their level of readiness

After Pathways Addictions Resource Centre is defunded in June, there will no longer be a publicly financed treatment counselling centre in Penticton and according to Interior Health, there won’t be any residential treatment centres coming either.

That’s because the health authority doesn’t believe residential treatment centres are the best course of action to treat addictions. There are two publicly funded treatment centres in Interior Health (IH), with one in Kelowna.

Instead, Jana Abetkoff of IH’s clinical operations said, the focus is on harm reduction and making sure the service matches the person’s situation and their level of readiness.

“Literature shows that residential treatment is not effective,” said Abetkoff. “Going to a treatment centre is intrusive and it plucks them away from their community, family and job. It puts them in a false environment where they learn new skills and then they are expected to transition back into their community. It’s effective for some but not the majority.”

Currently, in Penticton, Discovery House, a private residential treatment centre for men experiencing addiction, has a wait list.

Costs to attend Discovery House are kept low by fundraising efforts, and despite its successes, there is little government funding. Other private treatment centres in the Okanagan and Vancouver Island cost upwards of $10,000.

“This [residential treatment] is not what first-line treatment will look like in Penticton,” said Abetkoff.

For Kelowna mom Teena Clipston finding help for her son Andrew’s opioid addiction through IH has been challenging, to say the least. Andrew doesn’t want to stay on suboxone all his life, he wants to get clean. But IH has told Clipston that is her son’s only option through the health authority.

READ MORE: No help for Kelowna mom trying to save son from opioid addiction

Opioid Therapies Offered

Interior Health will set a person up with suboxone or other opioid therapies like opioid agonist treatment (OAT).

April 14, 2021, marked the fifth anniversary since the opioid crisis was declared and with 7,000 lives lost, the B.C. Liberals questioned why more isn’t being done in the way of prevention and treatment.

“It isn’t enough to just invest in harm reduction and safe supply, we need a system that also invests in prevention, treatment, and enforcement and works to ensure people have access to appropriate care and supports necessary for recovery,” said B.C. Liberal opposition leader Shirley Bond in the legislature last week.

But the key to help people is meeting them where they are at, said Abetkoff.

Treatment is on a continuum from supporting someone’s safety while they continue to use as well as supporting someone who chooses not to use anymore and maintain that, said Abetkoff.

The Iceberg Analogy

According to IH executive director of clinical operations Carl Meadows, the public debate going on right now is about a very small minority of people struggling with substance use who are visible in the community.

“There is an entire iceberg of people suffering that you don’t see. That’s the challenge.”

Those are the people using in their homes, alone.

That goes along with the stigma attached to addictions that have caused so many to hide and use alone, he said.

“We’ve had ongoing conversations with the city (of Penticton). I told them, we are never getting rid of open drug use. They don’t want to see it. Having lived in Vancouver most of my life, open drug use is so ubiquitous there in Vancouver and in all big cities,” said Meadows.

Why IH took over addictions services

Interior Health has created a “Specialized Community Services Program” (SCSP) that is aligned with primary care work. Ponderosa Care Clinic in Penticton was the first in the province of its kind along with Martin Street Outreach Centre that has now taken on urgent care, including some addiciton services.

Attributes of the new SCSP will be central access for all clients, with IH being accountable to those clients, said Meadows.

“One of the gaps of contracting out service is we are handing off the clients and we don’t know where they are at,” said Meadows. “Now mental health and substance use access will be seven days a week and we will tailor the services around the clients.

We are health care, that’s what we do, so it’s good that we are taking addictions and mental health in-house.”

READ MORE: Another deadly drug warning issued for Penticton

READ ALSO: Grieving mothers speak of the children they’ve lost to overdose

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Monique Tamminga

About the Author: Monique Tamminga

Monique brings 20 years of award-winning journalism experience to the role of editor at the Penticton Western News. Of those years, 17 were spent working as a senior reporter and acting editor with the Langley Advance Times.
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