Vancouver, BC – People at high risk of overdose are dying in their own homes, but a new program aims to prevent that. Vancouver Coastal Health’s Substance use Treatment and Response Team or START provides rapid access to at-home detox for those who need help stopping or stabilizing their substance use. The goal of the START program is to provide the right services, at the right time, in the right place.
Research shows people are more likely to have successful outcomes with withdrawal and detox if they can go through the process in their own home with supports in place. “For those individuals who will not go into residential detox because of the stigma, this is far more palatable,” says Mary Marlow, Manager Mental Health and Substance Use, Vancouver Coastal Health. “It also works well for people trying to hold down a job, those with disabilities, and single mothers with children.”
To be eligible for the START program individuals must meet certain criteria including: be 19 and older, live in Vancouver, and be residing in a safe, stable substance-free environment. Applicants must have a 24-hour support person to get through the withdrawal process. It takes up to two weeks from intake to completion, and involves assessment by a nurse and physician, followed by daily home visits for the first five days of the program. “The program is highly responsive” says Mary Marlow. “We don’t want to leave anyone out in the cold. Within two hours of receiving a referral, one of the START nurses will make contact with the client and arrange for an intake assessment.” All opioid dependent clients receive take-home naloxone kits, and they, along with their support person, are trained on how to use the life-saving antidote.
The first week of the program is the medical care component. “The medical stabilization piece is the beginning of the journey; it provides a foundation for the deeper work to follow,” says Dr. John Álvarez de Lorenzana, Physician Lead, START. “Our current understanding of addiction as a chronic disease affecting the brain has led to significant medical advances. Medications, such as Suboxone, which is considered a safer opioid replacement than methadone - play an important role in both harm reduction, engagement in recovery activities and daily functioning, helping people stabilize over time.” The second week of the program involves connecting clients to resources within Vancouver Coastal Health to support their ongoing recovery plans.
The START program is expected to help more than 400 people per year. Referrals can be made through Community Health Centres, physicians with opioid dependent clients, and through existing VCH programs, including:
- Access Central 1-866-658-1221
- Central Addictions Intake Team 604-263-7377
- Access and Assessment Centre 604-875-8289
- START 604-675-2455 firstname.lastname@example.org
START is part of a larger strategy to create new spaces across the province to meet the need for more home and mobile withdrawal management services. The program is also part of Vancouver Coastal Health’s response to the Provincial Public Health Emergency declared in April to address the unprecedented spike in drug overdose deaths, and supports the work of the newly formed Joint Task Force on Overdose Response
VCH is responsible for the delivery of $3.4 billion in community, hospital and residential care to more than one million people in communities including Richmond, Vancouver, the North Shore, Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky corridor, Powell River, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.
Public Affairs Officer
Vancouver Coastal Health