A report on best practices for recovery from addiction suggests British Columbia should shift its focus from the current harm reduction strategy.

The BC Centre on Substance Use outlined the path to a recovery-oriented system of care that it says is urgently needed.

"British Columbia has long suffered because of the lack of an effective system to support individuals in and pursuing recovery from substance use disorders," the report published Wednesday says.

The province has been focused on addressing the outcomes of untreated addiction and reducing the spread of disease through programs such as supervised injection centres and distribution of naloxone kits. The report praised these efforts as essential and life-saving, but says the emphasis on effective recovery treatment has been lacking.

The BCCSU said those who work for agencies that provide long-term treatment programs, many of whom have participated in recovery programs themselves, have felt marginalized as a result. The marginalization is also felt by those participating in recovery programs.

"Because of stigma and other concerns, individuals with addiction are often devalued and written off by society as being 'beyond help.' This is costly, unethical and wrong," the report says.

"Research has clearly demonstrated that long-term recovery from substance use disorders and other addictions is not only possible, but is an attainable and sustainable reality for many individuals, regardless of the severity and duration of their addiction."

Now that the province has a dedicated Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, the BCCSU is hopeful the minister will address what it calls a longstanding need for expanded recovery services.

"It's safe to say that our system for drug treatment and for recovery and for harm reduction has serious gaps and cracks in it," Minister Judy Darcy said following the release of the report.

The report comes a day after the province launched a new hub for mental health and addictions treatment at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver. According to the ministry, the new health-care model will break new ground by combining resources to create "protective umbrella of wraparound services designed to support patients, no matter where they are on their journey to wellness and hope."

On Wednesday, Darcy said more treatment centres will soon be opening in the province.

'Living proof that it works'

Those who have been through recovery successfully say they're proof that it works, but many say they've experienced the shortfalls outlined in the BCCSU report.

Michael, 21, told CTV News he struggled through addiction that led to crime and homelessness. Now in recovery, he said he'd tried programs and services over the years, but that nothing seemed to help.

"I didn't know what to do. My life kept going down and down. I didn't see a way out," he said.

"I'm staying in homeless shelters on the (Surrey) Strip and my whole face is covered in scabs and it's just gotten to the point where it's like I just let everything go. I stopped caring about myself."

But a chance encounter with a concerned stranger led him to the Last Door Recovery Centre in New Westminster.

"I was so lucky because if that didn't happen I don't know where I'd be today," he said.

Last Door's Giuseppe Ganci, who provided input for the BCCSU report, said more services are needed to provide long-term treatment for long-term addictions.

"We don't have a broken system, we just don't have a system," Ganci said.

Michael said access to programs like Last Door can change people's lives.

"They gave me hope and that hope turned to faith and here I am today, living proof that it works."

Portugal as an example

The 44-page report from the centre's director, Dr. Evan Wood, and senior adviser for recovery initiatives Marshall Smith, proposes the province look to places such as Portugal for guidance. The European country has adopted a system where those with substance abuse issues are able to access a range of treatments for free, based on their individual needs and goals.

In the past decade, the report says, Portugal has seen a steady decline in illicit drug and alcohol use, and the mortality rate is 3.5 times lower than the European average.

The BCCSU report cites a report to the province's chief coroner from a panel tasked with reviewing fatal illicit drug overdoses in B.C. The panel examined the circumstances surrounding the deaths of 1,854 people in a 19-month period, and identified a need to provincially regulate and oversee treatment and recovery programs, as well as expand access to addiction care. 

Wednesday's report looked at ways the province could act on those suggestions.

Timely access to services that provide personalized recovery plans is crucial, as is availability of psychosocial supports such as counselling. Those dealing with substance use issues should be made aware of the variety of harm reduction and recovery treatments available to them, and recovery must be encouraged as a realistic option, the report says.

A survey conducted across Canada last year found that on average, individuals said they used six different resources or programs during their recovery. The majority tried 12-step programs and residential addiction treatment programs, and about six-in-1- participated in counselling. 

Most said they'd faced challenges at the beginning, including stigma, access to services and a lack of support, but 91 per cent reported their quality of life as "good," "very good" or "excellent" once in recovery.

Services should be stigma-free and emphasize emotional, mental and spiritual well-being, the BCCSUreport said. Families of those seeking recovery should be educated and supported during the process.

Ways to strengthen recovery in B.C.

B.C. is already home to a wide range of successful recovery programs and an experienced population of people who are in long-term recovery, many of whom support each other, the report says.

The BCCSU says it will create working groups of health leaders and members of the recovery community, who will collaborate with the centre and other stakeholders as well as the ministry and B.C.'s Overdose Emergency Response Centre.

The groups will look at potential improvements to existing health and education systems and clinical tools. They'll present research and suggestions on how best to transform the current system to one that is recovery oriented.

They will also examine the rates and systems of funding available to get a better idea of costs those who need support are facing, and look at how best to help vulnerable and underserved populations. Among those groups are Indigenous people, women, youth, prisoners and probationers.

In addition, the working groups will look at increasing awareness of recovery options and the celebration of success stories. They will also examine strategies for updated policies, licensing and enforcement, including the establishment of recovery centres and programs in B.C.'s suburbs and on university and college campuses.

"Expanding and improving recovery services is a key element of creating a co-ordinated and effective continuum of addiction care," the report said.

"If we provide the same level of attention, compassion and investment to recovery as any other critical public health issue, we can make long-term recovery from substance use disorders and other addictions an attainable and sustainable reality for many British Columbians."

High-priority communities receive OD funding

The same day the report was released, the province announced 20 "high-priority" communities are receiving funding from a new initiative.

The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions said the money comes from the Community Overdose Crisis Innovation Fund, and will support regions where the crisis is most prevalent, and where local community action teams have already been established.

The one-time grants of $100,000 will go toward the expansion of overdose prevention and drug-checking services, ensuring the availability of naloxone, increasing connections to treatment medications and supporting those at risk.

Grants were approved for:

  • Richmond
  • Vancouver
  • Burnaby
  • New Westminster
  • Surrey
  • Abbotsford
  • Chilliwack
  • Langley
  • Maple Ridge
  • Kamloops
  • Kelowna
  • Vernon
  • Fort St. John
  • Prince George
  • Powell River
  • Campbell River
  • Duncan
  • Nanaimo
  • Port Alberni
  • Victoria

With a report from CTV Vancouver's Maria Weisgarber