Editorial: Opening Riverview for rehab

Acting quickly is important to reduce drug overdoses, but programs also have to be well staffed and properly resourced

Reopening parts of Riverview Hospital for detox and rehab programs for people suffering from opioid addiction sounds like a good idea if it would eliminate barriers to new services and provide more beds for more people more quickly.

This issue has hit close to home because two Tri-City youths — among hundreds of others — have died of overdoses within the last year and many more people have been hospitalized.

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But the death of Brandon Jansen at a Sunshine Coast facility shows just how difficult drug addiction is to shake, requiring more than simplistic solutions, and even clearing out the cobwebs at Riverview might not do the trick.

Brandon's mom, Michelle Jansen, is obviously heartbroken at what happened to her son but one of her biggest struggles was to get information and then proper supervision once her son was placed. Because the cravings always came back, Brandon was at risk to re-use and, according to his mom's testimony last week at a coroner's inquest, the level of supports varied widely between facilities.

So it's not always enough to provide a bed as fast as possible. Those in the grips of addiction need a good bed and proper supports, and at the same time, parents need a place to go to get information and help. They shouldn't, as Jansen pointed out, have to "turn over all the rocks" themselves.

Sure, opening parts of Riverview sounds good, but is it a realistic option? Would it fast-track beds that are needed?

The province has pledged to provide 60 additional beds (20 for youth), that will help 240 people with opioid addiction over the next year.

It's hard to say whether opening Riverview would fast-track any of those beds, and even if it did, the important thing is whether the care is good, not whether the former provincial mental health hospital gets reused, as so many people would like to see.

Other treatment options must also be considered, such as providing opioid substitution therapy for those who need it, as well as training and resources for emergency responders.

It's a shame that 914 people have to die before people pay attention and do something but the response does have to be appropriate, thorough and evidenced-based. Many, many lives depend on it.

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