BC families release blueprint to support addiction treatment, end stigma

published on April 11, 2018

A network of British Columbian family members and caregivers whose loved ones have been affected by substance use have outlined priorities for addressing substance use and addiction in the province in a report released today.

The report sets provincial priorities to develop a substance use system of care, further engage family members and caregivers in treatment and care of loved ones, and address the stigma that contributes to the harms associated with substance use.

“For too long, families have been relegated to watching from the sidelines as life-defining decisions are made and left to pick up the pieces when addiction treatment doesn’t produce hoped-for results or is just plain not available,” says Leslie McBain, co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm and family engagement lead with the BCCSU. “Yet none of us is properly equipped with the tools to care for our loved ones who face stigma and shame for their substance use problems. That must change, and those changes have never been more desperately needed.”

The report was developed by the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) Network of Family Members and Caregivers. The network is comprised of families across British Columbia who are affected by and want to change the existing substance use system, including representatives from various support and advocacy groups such as Moms Stop the Harm, From Grief to Action, and Grief Recovery After Substance Passing (GRASP).

The report calls for the provincial government to:

  • Commit to establishing an effective substance use system of care and involving families in all stages of development and planning
  • Endorse the creation of a provincially-recognized best practices process outlining how to involve families affected by substance use disorders
  • Establish family support groups across the province
  • Involve families in developing messaging for provincial public awareness and anti-stigma campaigns regarding addiction and overdose prevention/response

“My daughter was unable to access treatment that could have saved her life when she needed it most,” says Deborah Bailey, a member of GRASP and BCCSU’s family and caregiver network. “We knew what treatment she needed, and begged our doctor to prescribe it. Her death – like so many others – was entirely preventable. Our health system must do better at making treatment that fits the person’s need available immediately, and it must include family members and caregivers in that process.”

The recommendations were developed following a series of meetings to identify several long-standing challenges in the health care system when seeking care for their loved ones. These include struggling to identify resources and navigating the health care system, exclusion from treatment decision-making, and limited access to addiction treatment and substance use services. These challenges have become more acute – and the response more urgent – in the midst of ongoing opioid crisis.

“My youngest brother died of fentanyl poisoning. Our family struggled with stigma, with accessing dignified care, and with the stress that comes with the huge risks of addiction,” says Millie Schulz, a member of the BCCSU Network of Family Members and Caregivers. “Danny died alone in his apartment. The stigma surrounding his addiction prevented him from using the drugs he needed in a safe way. I am the lucky one, I survived and am living in recovery and I am so grateful my family stuck by my side even when the medical system did not.”

The full report can be found here: