Pubdate: Fri, 08 Sep 2017
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Nick Eagland
Page: A4


B.C.'s first minister of mental health and addictions says she will
take an "all-ministry" approach to the overdose crisis, influenced in
part by Portugal's renowned policy for druguse and addiction.

Minister Judy Darcy met with Dr. Joao Goulao, Portugal's national drug
co-ordinator, at this week's Recovery Capital Conference of Canada in
New Westminster.

In 1998, Goulao was part of a committee that developed policy to deal
with a deadly drug crisis in his country, during which one per cent of
the population was addicted.

Through measures like decriminalization, treatment on demand and the
expansion of treatment facilities, Portugal's overdose-death rate
plummeted while public perception of addiction shifted from viewing it
as a criminal issue to one of health.

By 2015, Portugal had an average of three overdose deaths per one
million people, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs
and Drug Addiction.

In B.C. this year, amid a fentanyl-related public health emergency,
there have been 313 deaths per one million people, up from 206 last

After her meeting with Goulao, Darcy said that she saw "a pathway to
hope" through Portugal's subsidized employment and housing programs
for people in recovery, and its focus on counselling, treatment and

"I think we have so much to learn from them," Darcy

In Portugal, addiction is treated as a medical issue and a chronic
disease. It offers drugusers an appointment with a doctor as soon as
they seek help and then creates a "tailor-made" treatment and recovery
plan. Failure to comply can lead to penalties such as fines or
community service.

B.C.'s new government is promising to implement its own "askonce,
get-help-fast" approach to treatment and recovery.

"There are people out there doing amazing work, but it isn't a
system," Darcy said. "It's not coordinated, it's not seamless and we
have all of these silos."

Following a tour Wednesday of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Goulao
said he was shocked by what he saw.

"It reminds me of the worst times in Portugal during the heroin
epidemic in the '90s," he said.

Goulao was surprised by the neighbourhood's unco-ordinated harm
reduction, treatment and recovery systems.

While he doesn't know whether Portugal's system is directly adaptable
to B.C., he believes political will could bring agencies together for
a system that functions better.

"I saw so many responses - every corner," he said. "What I kept from
the visit that I made is that there (is) probably a lack of
communication and articulation of the work of those different

Darcy said she would build a co-ordinated, easy-to-navigate system
that provides affordable programs as well as follow-ups after treatment.

She said her short-term goal was to bring all agencies and ministries
responsible together to address the overdose crisis.

"Our approach is really an all-government approach. We have to be
bold. We have no choice."

Goulao said his impression of Darcy was that she had a good plan in

"Clearly, I was very impressed with her speech (at the conference),"
he said. "I could subscribe (to) it entirely, and I hope that she has
the political and social conditions to go on with what she proposed."

Conference spokesman Marshall Smith said it was important to invite
Goulao so that the recovery community could better understand the
Portuguese model, including misconceptions about decriminalization.

Smith said that after listening to a broad array of delegates from all
areas of B.C.'s additions-treatment community, including Darcy, he
believed B.C. may be ready to "take a page out of " Portugal's policy.

"I think we're starting to see the type of will that is needed to
explore this, at least on some smaller, pilot basis," Smith said.

"That could be a very exciting breakthrough."
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