Jan 17

Provincial Snapshot: Accessing Public Treatment in BC

As part of our new series, Provincial Snapshot, Canada Drug Rehab will investigate the steps involved in how to access public treatment going from province to province each month. In Canada, you must be seeking treatment in the same province or territory as your health card. Only in rare cases can someone be referred across provincial lines. Therefore, if you are living in British Columbia and wish to seek treatment but are originally from Alberta, you must decide to either go back to Alberta for treatment or change over your health number/care card number to BC in order to receive treatment in BC. This month, we are starting with a look at British Columbia, the different health authorities in the province, and the best way to access publicly funded treatment. If you or someone you know requires urgent help, please call 911.

Mental Health and Substance Use Services: Your Starting Point

BC addiction treatmentIn order to receive public treatment in BC, you must start by calling or visiting one of the many mental health and substance use services offices. All major cities and most large towns have an office. First, find out which health authority you live in; this will help you find your closest office. There are 5 main health authorities in BC listed below and each is linked to the list of mental health and substance use offices found in that authority:

  1. Interior Health Authority (IHA)
  2. Fraser Valley Health Authority (FVH)
  3. Vancouver Coastal Health Authority (VCH)
  4. Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA)
  5. Northern Health Authority (NHA)

These offices are responsible for the assessment of necessary services. Those struggling with addiction will be assessed to see if they need detox, outpatient help, inpatient services, etc. The office can also help with referrals to alternate programs and options ie. detox, rehab. At these offices, families can receive support and education on substance use issues. Those looking for help can also receive outpatient treatment, one-on-one counseling, and group programs.

There is one other health authority that spans the entire province. The First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) allows for those with a valid status card to attend First Nations specific treatment programs within the province. Indigenous individuals can find their local FNHA office here.

Some Improvements in Access

The two health authorities in the Lower Mainland, FHA and VCH, have a “no barriers to access” policy. This policy has come about due to the opioid epidemic hitting the area hard. It means that those looking for help are no longer required to be a certain number of days sober before seeking treatment. This is in an attempt to battle the overdose deaths the area has been experiencing, and hopefully speed up the process to recovery.

The bulk of the province’s population is in this area, therefore the majority of folks with substance use issues live here too. It is this reasoning that has meant that the rest of the province does NOT have this policy in place. Folks living in VIHA, NHA, and IHA must all meet whatever sobriety requirements their community’s specific office requires. However, some major centres like Prince George, Kelowna, Victoria, and Nanaimo can offer additional addiction resources not found in smaller towns in those regions.

Inpatient/Residential Treatment (aka Rehab)

Currently, Northern Health has no primary publicly funded residential program for adults. Therefore, all patients have to be referred to other health authorities, budget pending. Patients must participate in outpatient sessions within NHA in order for their application to be considered and referred onward. It is also contingent on the receiving health authority having the money and space for a new external patient. Vancouver Island does not have a primary program either.

Interior Health Authority has two public residential programs. However, they are geographically quite close (Armstrong and Kelowna). As a result, people often travel hundreds of kilometres to receive treatment.

Fraser Valley and Vancouver Coastal have about seven programs each and have an easier time referring between each other due to the No Barriers policy. However, NHA and VIHA often refer to these regions due to their lack of programs. This increases the burden on these programs and impairs local residents’ ability to access them.

If you have questions on how to access public treatment in BC, or anywhere in Canada, please call or email our coordinator for help with options that will fit yours or your loved one’s needs.


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