A powerful factor in Metro Vancouver’s drug overdose epidemic is untreated mental illness, prompting experts to call for more help.
CTV Vancouver Published Tuesday, January 24, 2017 6:42PM PST Last Updated Tuesday, January 24, 2017 6:43PM PST
The mayor of Coquitlam is calling on the B.C. government to repurpose part of Riverview Hospital for the treatment of people struggling in the grips of drug addiction.
The City of Coquitlam recommended using the Riverview lands as a mental health campus back in 2015, but Mayor Richard Stewart said the situation has become considerably more pressing amid the province’s overdose epidemic, which claimed 914 lives last year.
“It is now urgent that we find an immediate term solution that helps addicts recover from their addiction, rather than place them at risk as they are now,” Stewart said.
Riverview Hospital stands mostly empty in Coquitlam. June 19, 2012. (CTV)
“I believe government could well do this, and do it quickly.”
Asked about the possibility of repurposing the property, the Ministry of Health released a list of its current efforts to support people with mental health issues, including a $10 million funding boost to open 60 more beds for 90-day addictions treatment.
That’s in addition to more than 300 new substance use beds that have opened since 2013, according to the province.
“We appreciate [Stewart’s] suggestion and want to assure him and British Columbians that we are investing in the continuum of mental health and substance use supports,” a spokesperson told CTV News in an email.
But experts believe problems will persist until the government starts focusing more on early intervention.
Dr. Michael Krausz, a psychiatrist with the University of British Columbia, said children who are at risk of becoming addicted need to be targeted long before they start using drugs.
“Our mental health system is based on crisis intervention. It’s not working proactively,” he said.
“We know a lot of the high-risk kids… we need to work with them.”
Kids who are at greater risk include those who come from violent homes, have mental health issues, are bullied, or live on the streets, he said.
Unfortunately, Krausz said only 10 per cent of youth who are suffering from mental illness get professional help.
Former heroin addict John Schoch believes early intervention could have sent his life on an entirely different path.
Schoch’s parents, who were both drug addicts themselves, put him in foster care when he was a young boy, and he started using heroin when he was just 12 years old.
“I started to use drugs to hide all the pain in my life, bury stuff,” said Schoch, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. “I could be living a different life.”