Mental health, addiction take center stage at Kelowna forum as opioid crisis rages on

The opioid crisis in BC is nowhere near better, and experts predict many more people will lose their lives.

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

Tanguay is also co-chairing 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 substances, and Tanguay believes people are starting to pay attention.

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

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

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“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 also address ways to tackle the crisis and save lives.

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

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

“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 to it.”

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

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

Tanguay said more funding is needed to strengthen current services and also provide more wraparound services.

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

Many on the forum agreed that addiction should be treated like any other health condition.

“If I have cancer, I’m not on a waiting list 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 problem, we’re never going to get past it, and frankly, it’s because of discrimination, racism, and a lack of political will to make a difference for everyone people.”

The forum continues at the Delta Grand Hotel on Saturday.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Mental health, addiction take center stage at Kelowna forum as opioid crisis rages on

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