Pubdate: Tue, 22 Aug 2017
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Times Colonist
Author: Janelle Breese Biagioni
Page: A9


People with brain injury are far more likely to have many issues, yet
they're overlooked

I applaud health officer Dr. Richard Stanwick's forward thinking in
addressing an emergent opioid-overdose situation that has gripped
British Columbia.

I agree there is an immediate need to take pressure off the system and
to prevent further deaths from occurring. Opening a safe consumption
site might be a large piece of the puzzle, but it is only one piece.
It addresses the tragic outcome of a big problem, but it won't
eradicate the problem itself.

The emotional and monetary costs attributed to responding to these
overdoses, many of which are fatal, is staggering. First and foremost
are the family and friends left behind or who continue to pray their
loved one will find a better, healthier life. In addition, the
emotional cost to those responding to overdoses is horrendous.

As Stanwick stated in a Times Colonist article ("Drug deaths prompt
urgent warning," Nov. 24, 2016) those responding to overdoses often
have no more training than basic first aid and basic CPR. The
unintended consequences and ripple effect is agonizing and costly.

British Columbians are dying from overdoses. So yes, let's stop these
senseless fatalities, but let's also prevent people from spiralling
down to this point in the first place. If we stop at putting one piece
of the puzzle in place, the puzzle is not solved.

While we aim to respond to this provincial emergency, let's back
things up and look at how people are getting onto this road to hell in
the first place.

In Canada, the numbers are escalating for mental-health issues,
substance use and addictions, and homelessness.

One factor that is overlooked, yet is a direct link to these
lifealtering issues, is brain injury.

Brain injury is the orphan in our health-care system. Nobody wants it
and everyone assumes someone else is taking care of it. A person
living with a brain injury will not necessarily have access to
mental-health or substance-use and addiction supports. Often, they are
told to "deal with the brain injury first."

If statistics turn heads and lead us to action, here are some profound
ones: * The risk of substance use and/or addiction following a brain
injury increases by 200 per cent. * Brain-injury survivors struggle
with mental-health issues such as anxiety, depression and insomnia.
The risk of suicide following a severe brain injury increases by 400
per cent. * 80 per cent of those incarcerated have suffered a brain
injury, and more than 60 per cent of these injuries occurred when they
were children, often from abuse. * 53 per cent of the homeless have
suffered a brain injury, and nearly 70 per cent of this group became
homeless after their first brain injury. * About 1.5 million Canadians
live with a brain injury. This number surpasses those with breast
cancer, HIV/AIDS, spinal-cord injury and multiple sclerosis combined.

In some areas, a person with a brain injury can face a three-year wait
for services. That's ridiculous. We would never tolerate a cancer
patient being told they will wait years for services or treatment, and
when they do, it will be short-term support only.

"Once it's done, it's done. You are on your own after treatment is
finished." So why is this happening to survivors of brain injury?

The pressure on our healthcare system is extraordinary. Costs are
skyrocketing. So before panic sets in and people assume I am proposing
we spend more money, we won't be.

We are already spending the money on acute care, emergency services,
policing and the prisons. If we address all the issues together
(mental health, substance use/addiction, brain injury) we can reduce
the burden to taxpayers. We pay now for appropriate supports, or we
pay later - and paying later is a much bigger cost to our society.

Safe consumption sites will prevent deaths; however, it's crucial the
gaps in services and supports are addressed as well. This means we
must address mental health, addictions, and brain injury together. If
not, we will never truly eradicate the problem.

In conclusion, my plea is for Premier John Horgan, Health Minister
Adrian Dix, and Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy to
rename the new ministry to Ministry of Mental Health, Addiction, and
Brain Injury and to ensure the mandate will address the gaps in
services and supports for those living with the outcome of an acquired
brain injury.

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Janelle Breese Biagioni is the founder of the Constable Gerald Breese
Centre for Traumatic Life Losses and has dedicated her career to
supporting survivors and families living with a brain injury.
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