Family doctors key to screening for addiction in B.C. fight against opioids

published on April 13, 2017 by Camille Bains / The Canadian Press in Times Colonist

VANCOUVER — A tag hanging from a dead man’s left toe says the cause of death was an overdose of fentanyl, “unknowingly taken with other drugs.”

The cadaver draped in a white sheet is displayed in transit ads funded by the Vancouver Police Foundation and represents 922 people who died in British Columbia from drug overdoses last year alone.

A spiralling number of deaths, often involving the painkiller fentanyl, prompted the provincial government to declare a public health emergency on April 14, 2016, and to launch its own awareness campaign on TV, radio, Facebook, transit and at bars and restaurants.

The BC Centre on Substance Use is developing guidelines regarding that move on behalf of the Health Ministry, said Cheyenne Johnson, a nurse and clinical director at the centre.

She said training family doctors to screen and diagnose opioid addiction will be key to addressing the high number of overdose deaths in British Columbia, and that the centre has taken on that task.

Since last October, nearly 1,100 doctors have been educated at 25 locations around the province to recognize addiction and refer patients for treatment, Johnson said.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia has so far offered basic addiction training, but as of June 5 the centre will fully take over the effort through an online course in hopes of reaching as many doctors as possible, she said.

Johnson said some doctors who have taken the training shared that they were “scared” to deal with patients hooked on opioids because they lacked adequate medical expertise.

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