Record numbers of people who use opioids entered drug substitution programs in B.C. last year, but only one third stick with treatment for 12 months, according to a report issued by the provincial health officer.

25 Apr 2017

More than 3,900 people who use drugs entered programs that prescribe methadone or suboxone last year, but that amounted to a net increase of only 1,292 participants because of the dropouts.

The increase in use of so-called opioid replacement therapy has been spurred by a rash of overdose deaths that killed 922 people in B.C. last year, said Dr. Perry Kendall, the provincial health officer. 

The addition of the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl to heroin by drug dealers has been implicated in many of those deaths.

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“What does this overdose crisis tell us about our quality of care?” asked Michael Krausz, a psychiatrist and UBC-Providence leadership chair for addiction research. “Why do we have an overdose crisis when countries like Austria, Germany and Switzerland do not?”

Drug substitution programs in those countries have 12-month retention rates above 60 per cent, he said. B.C.’s retention rate in 2014-15 was 32 per cent, down from 41 per cent five years earlier, according to the report.

What those figures really mean is muddled by a lack of detail about the people who use opioids, whether they were on maintenance or tapering doses or moving from other provinces or in and out of jail, said Kendall. 

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