Written by: Srijani Datta, Assistant News Editor
B.C. is experiencing the highest number of overdose deaths in Canada when it comes to the opioid crisis, says Dr. Seonaid Nolan, an Addiction Medicine Physician at St. Paul’s and research scientist at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.
Nolan is leading the charge at B.C.’s St. Paul’s Hospital (SPH) on addiction research. Through an email interview, she corresponded with The Peak about the state of the opioid crisis in B.C., her work on addiction research, and the work done by SPH in combating substance use.
On August 29, the B.C. government announced a lawsuit against more than 40 drug companies, accusing wholesalers, distributors, and manufacturers of being partially responsible for BC’s ongoing opioid crisis. In 2017, more than 1,420 people in B.C. died from illicit drug overdoses, while mental health related and substance use based visits to the SPH alone went up by 76% since 2012.
“Everyone is susceptible to opioid misuse and use disorder,” stated Nolan. “However, regarding deaths from overdose, typically we see this among middle-aged men who tend to use alone, and death rates are also much higher amongst individuals of Indigenous ancestry,” she responded.
Nolan stated that despite the spreading nature of the crisis, available evidence-based medicines remain underused and BC’s addiction treatment system needs to be improved.
“Education for not only health-care providers but the general public is needed to recognize addiction as a chronic, relapsing disease and not a lifestyle choice.” – Dr. Seonaid Nolan
Nolan is currently the principal investigator for the “Outcomes for Patients Assessed for Addiction Care (OPAC),” which is a hospital-based cohort study that is currently recruiting participants at SPH. She hopes to use the study’s findings to inform the development of interventions to improve the addiction treatment system as patients transition from acute care environments back to community settings.
Nolan further elaborated on the efforts of SPH in addressing the present crisis in B.C. and substance abuse at large. She mentioned that SPH has provided care to a significant proportion of individuals with opioid use disorders.
“SPH sees the highest rate of presentations to the emergency department for management of a non-fatal overdose. Through the support of Providence Health Care and the BC Centre on Substance Use, SPH has been the site for now North America’s largest interdisciplinary Addiction Medicine Clinical Fellowship as well as an Addiction Medicine Research Fellowship.”
She continued that SPH has also been providing addiction medicine training to interested medical students and residents — not just from B.C., but also from across the country — as part of the Addiction Medicine Clinical Elective.
Nolan added that SPH has recently increased its capacity to serve emergency patients.
On August 30, SPH ran a fundraising awareness campaign called “Shorts 4 St. Paul’s Day”. This campaign was devoted to raising awareness and funds for the SPH Foundation and SPH’s world-leading addiction medicine program.
Nolan explained that this campaign would “allow for an expansion of services, help provide more comprehensive care, and care to greater number of individuals.” She continued that this campaign can “have a lasting impact on our ability to address B.C.’s current opioid crisis.”
The campaign is run by young professionals working for SPH Foundation and are known as the St Paul’s Future Leaders. According to Nolan, “they are an exclusive committee of young professionals who commit their time and efforts to raising awareness and funds for St. Paul’s Foundation. The committee was started in 2014 and since then it has helped raise over $750,000 in funds for St. Paul’s Hospital.”
While progress is being made, Nolan emphasized that “there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done to improve the screening, diagnosis and management of substance use disorders.”
With files from CBC News.