Mental health, addictions front and centre at Kelowna forum as opioid crisis rages on

The opioid crisis in B.C. is nowhere near being better and experts predict many more people will lose their lives.

“People are going to die,” said Dr. Rob Tanguay, an addictions psychiatrist and pain physician.

Tanguay is also co-chair of the 2023 Western Canada Addiction Forum taking place in Kelowna on Friday and Saturday.

Since the public health emergency was declared seven years ago, about 12,000 British Columbians have lost their lives to toxic drugs and Tanguay believes people are starting to pay attention.

“I think one of the tides that’s shifting things is, this crisis has affected most of us,” Tanguay told Global News. “Almost everyone knows someone who has been affected, harmed or died from addiction.”

The forum brought together nearly 200 experts in the fields of addiction and mental health.

“Nurses, doctors, social workers, therapists, they’re all here,” Tanguay said.

In addition to learning new tools to help support those struggling with mental health and addiction, the experts are also addressing ways to tackle the crisis and save lives.

“We’re not even treading water, we’re sinking,” said Tanguay.

The opioid crisis claimed more than 200 lives in B.C. in the month of April alone.

“Year on year, we’re losing upwards of 2,300 people at the moment, seven a day,” said Keir Macdonald, CEO of Coast Mental Health. “It’s a staggering challenge for our communities and we’re here to talk about some of the solutions for that.”

One of the solutions Macdonald believes is key is better integration of services.

“We have a lot of components in a system but not a true system,” Macdonald said. “And how can we build that stronger integration between mental health, substance use, housing? There are so many components that go to help people recover and continue on their journey.”

Tanguay said more funding is needed to bolster current services and provide more wraparound services as well.

“You’re going to have to invest into a system of care for people, which includes recovery services, inpatient treatment services, outpatient treatment services, medications, and harm reduction services, and they all have to be available, ” Tanguay said. “Right now, they’re not.”

Many at the forum agreed that addiction needs to be treated like any other health condition.

“If I have cancer, I’m not on a waitlist for a year to see an oncologist but if I have addiction, I am,” Tanguay said. “And until we treat addiction, like cancer, like heart disease, like any other health-care problem, we’re never going to get past it and quite frankly, this is because of discrimination, racism and a lack of political will to make a difference for all people.”

The forum continues at the Delta Grand Hotel on Saturday.

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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