Fuelled by fentanyl crisis, St. Paul’s unique rapid-treatment centre sees a five-fold increase in visitors in first year

published on January 13, 2018 by Lori Culbert in Vancouver Sun

Since the Rapid Access Addiction Centre opened in October 2016 at St. Paul’s, it has served 1,500 patients from many communities and many walks of life. When it opened, it was unique for offering nearly everything in one location for someone struggling with addictions and mental health — doctors, nurses, counsellors, social workers — and aimed to help people immediately, with no wait-list. Several other cities, such as Surrey and Victoria, are now opening their own RAAC clinics. Here is a peek inside St Paul’s.

When she was mired in a seemingly endless drug addiction, Phyliss Sauvé couldn’t slog her way through the health care and social services systems that were intended to help her.

It was nearly impossible to make or keep appointments with doctors, drug counsellors and social workers when she had no home, no phone, no car. “You don’t see any way out, and I would get frustrated, so I would just keep doing what I was doing.”

Today, after five years of sobriety, she works for the unique Rapid Access Addiction Clinic, or RAAC, at St. Paul’s Hospital, which offers most of the services addicts need to try to get clean, under one roof. 

“If I would have been able to walk through these doors and have everything I need to access here and the help, all in one spot, I don’t think I would have struggled as much,” said Sauvé, a RAAC peer navigator. “It would have saved me a lot of grief. ”

RAAC opened in the fall of 2016 to divert people away from St. Paul’s overburdened emergency department, which over the previous five years had been hit with a 64 per cent increase in patients who use drugs.  A public health emergency was declared in B.C. in 2016 because of the high number of people suffering overdoses while using opioids, which were often laced with the synthetic drug fentanyl.

In its first full month of operation, October of 2016, 169 people came to visit RAAC’s team of nurses, doctors and social workers. A year later, in October 2017, the no-frills space tucked away on the hospital’s second floor handled 837 visits, or five times as many.

“In the beginning, we knew that this place was going to be busy,” Nancy Chow, RAAC’s clinical nurse leader, said in an interview.

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