Complexities treating opioid addicted B.C. youth prompt new guidelines

VANCOUVER — New guidelines aimed at improving treatment for opioid-addicted young people have been released by the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use, which says a lack of youth-focused treatment programs has created challenges in the province with the highest number of fatal overdoses.

Rachel Staples, whose 15-year-old son Elliot Eurchuk died in April from an accidental overdose, said that while the guidelines are a good start, insufficient treatment beds and a law prohibiting parental involvement in care without a youth’s consent are big problems that must be addressed.

Dr. Sharon Vipler, who was on the committee that developed the guidelines, said they call on doctors to prescribe treatment drugs such as suboxone before methadone is tried, as well as counselling to support youth dealing with addiction.

The guidelines say short-term detox programs alone are not recommended because they tend to increase rates of relapse, HIV infection and overdose death but that patients should be referred to ongoing treatment, including in residential facilities.

Doctors are encouraged to screen all youth for substance use disorders and mental health disorders and to refer patients to addiction physicians with experience treating youth with opioid use disorder.

Physicians should also work to ensure their young patients are provided continuing treatment as they enter adulthood, with future caregivers identified early to prevent scrambling to get them into another program, said Vipler, an addictions specialist who works at a detox centre in Surrey, which has six beds for youth.

“What we’re saying is that if you are a clinician providing care for an individual who is going to age out imminently or even in the foreseeable year or so, that process should start as soon as that thought comes into mind,” she said.

The guidelines also call for involvement of family so youth have the emotional support they need. However, the Infants Act in B.C. says children under 19 may consent to a medical treatment on their own if the health-care provider is sure the treatment is in the child’s best interest and if the child understands its potential risks and benefits.

“Parental participation in the treatment of youth should be actively encouraged, and family members should be supported with sufficient information and training,” say the new guidelines.

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