British Columbia·Interactive

Are there enough beds for drug treatment in B.C.?

An investigation by CBC reveals that when it comes to people trying to get help for their loved ones through direct residential care, the system is muddled and patchwork.

Quality and quantity of facilities for substance abuse treatment varies wildly

The B.C. government says that when it comes to providing options for people struggling with drug addiction and looking for help, they have a "strategy to provide a comprehensive spectrum of care to meet the needs of people experiencing substance use challenges."

But an investigation by CBC reveals that when it comes to people trying to get help for their loved ones through direct residential care, the system is muddled and patchwork.

There is no centralized resource saying how many beds there are in the province for people seeking drug addiction treatment, where they are, who the beds are available for, and what services they provide.  

Some regulation, but varying quality

The provincial government deregulated the recovery home industry in 2002. 

Following a spike in recovery home deaths, the government introduced a new system in 2013, allowing operators who register in the Assisted Living Registry to be eligible for provincial funding of $30.90 a day for each client who is on social assistance.

As a result, options available to people seeking treatment run the gamut from high-quality, high-cost facilities in both the public and private sector to more basic places for those on social assistance. 

Our methodology

Two CBC producers phoned up every drug treatment facility with beds they could find in B.C., posing as the mother of a 16-year-old girl and a 23-year-old man, respectively. They asked how many beds were available, how long the wait was, what the cost was, and what treatment options are available. 

​​We created our fictional profile to be sure we got an accurate picture of available treatment.

Because the government would not provide detailed bed counts, our numbers may not be accurate. However, the data we've found provides an accurate snapshot of what is available for a member of the public, searching on their own, as British Columbia's opioid crisis drags on for more than a year.  

Here's what we found.

Few high-quality beds for youth

In May, B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond issued a report stating "there are only 24 publicly funded residential substance use treatment beds to serve the needs of all youth in B.C."

However, the provincial government says "there are 203 beds available in B.C. specifically for children and youth with mental health substance use challenges."

So which number is it? The number found by Turpel-Lafond doesn't include beds funded by the Ministry of Children and Family Development. And it didn't include facilities which don't meet standards to be classified as "Tier 4" or above — which requires outpatient counselling, day treatment, medically monitored withdrawal management, and other specialized services.

At the same time, the provincial government wouldn't provide the names or locations of any of the 203 beds they cited. 

"There are safety and privacy concerns about revealing the location of specific youth substance use services," a spokesperson with the Ministry of Health told CBC News.

"You are more than welcome to FOI the information but I have been told it is unlikely that you would get it through that avenue either."

In total, we were able to find 117 public (and publicly listed) youth beds throughout British Columbia, and an additional 44 that were either private or covered through Health Canada. 

Beds are predominantly based in the Lower Mainland

The opioid crisis in British Columbia affects all corners of the province: from January 2015 to June 2016, there were 93 fentanyl overdose deaths outside the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island or Sunshine Coast — 23.7 per cent of all deaths. 

Of the 2,574 beds we were able to find, both public and private, just 493, or 19.1 per cent, were in Northern B.C. or the interior. 

There were only six public beds for youth who lived north of Williams Lake, and all were in Nechako Youth Treatment Program in Prince George. There were no youth public beds in the Okanagan, and just one in the Kootenays. 

CBC was able to confirm 101 adult drug treatment facilities in operation. Of those, 75 facilities provided spots for men, but just 51 treated women.  

Many places don't offer methadone/Suboxone

Experts say evidence proves the best, first-line treatment for opioid addiction includes prescribing Suboxone and methadone to any addict who has completed detox. 

However, of those 101 adult facilities, we found almost as many adult treatment facilities that were abstinence-based (29) as those that prescribed both Suboxone and methadone (34).

Few places with medical staff on hand

The situation appears to be even worse when it comes to having medical staff present at facilities.

When asked whether medical staff were on site, just 17 of 101 facilities said they were, compared to 48 who had no medical staff on site  — many of which allow methadone and Suboxone use.

Costs and wait times vary 

For youth, many experts told CBC one of the best options for both care and quality was Peak House. Contracted through Vancouver Coastal Health, it charges just $200 for a 10-week program, and half of that is a damage deposit.

But there are some beds for youth which cost more than $10,000 per month. 

For adults, anyone on social assistance is subsidized by $30.90/day if they are in a facility. But while many of those places are geared towards people on social assistance, and either make the cost free or up to $550/month, private operators will charge anywhere between $450 to $24,000 a month.  

Wait times also fluctuate wildly, with just a quarter of facilities telling CBC there was no current wait, and others saying it would take up to six months for a bed to open. 

With files from Natalie Clancy, Yvette Brend, and Manjula Dufresne.


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