Photo (left to right): December 12, 2016: Dr. Patricia Daly, Chief Medical Health Officer; Dr. Keith Ahamad, Medical Director Regional Addiction Program; Terry Lake, former Minister of Health; Dr. Eric Grafstein, Regional Head, Emergency Medicine.
In the fall of 2016, the opioid crisis was tearing its way through the streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside (DTES) and City Centre. Paramedics were responding to an average of 30 overdose calls a day, with about half of those patients ending up in emergency.
While plans were in place for more permanent treatment facilities in the DTES, something needed to be done immediately. VCH, BC Emergency Health Services, the City of Vancouver, nurses and social workers came together and brought in the Mobile Medical Unit (MMU) to a then-vacant lot at 58 West Hastings.
A study published in October in the Journal of Public Health demonstrates the MMU's success. Between December 2016 and March 2017, 269 cases of opioid overdose were treated at the MMU. That's an average of four patients a day diverted from emergency departments.
82% of clients left with a take-home naloxone kit.
The smaller medical space with fewer distractions than a busy emergency department also seemed to help engage patients. Far more patients received medications for opioid agonist treatment (OAT) in the MMU – about one in five compared to one in 50 in an emergency department.
Outreach workers began working out of the MMU too. Each and every person treated for an overdose at the MMU was followed up with on the day, or in the days following by an outreach team member who connected patients back to their primary care provider and/or with other services in the community.
The Overdose Outreach Team officially started as a standalone team in May 2017.
The study found that the MMU could safely care for patients outside an emergency department. The study shows that many patients can be safely treated in a modified community trailer in cities experiencing a lot of opioid overdoses.
For information about overdose prevention and care, please visit www.vch.ca/overdose.