Politics

Psychiatrist to oversee overdose-related brain injury crisis in B.C.

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The B.C. government has appointed a chief scientific adviser to address the growing number of people who are brain injured after an overdose, while also managing mental illness and drug dependency.

On Wednesday, Health Minister Adrian Dix announced Dr. Daniel Vigo would work closely with Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and report to government on ways to solve the crisis.

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Vigo said there was a very high prevalence of brain injury in overdose survivors, noting B.C. was in the midst of an overdose public health emergency with more than 2,500 deaths in 2023.

“Half the survivors die in the immediate future and another third in the near future,” he said.

“For those who survive, the resulting clinical triad presents unique challenges in patient engagement and service provision, from prevention to tertiary care and secure community housing.”

Vigo said his office would provide continuing recommendations to the Ministry of Health to improve and analyze the health care system’s response to the crisis.

B.C. Premier David Eby said Vigo would provide continuing advice on how to improve care for this new and growing group of people living with a combination of severe mental-health and addictions challenges and brain injuries.

“People with such conditions often face extreme challenges that impact their ability to make rational decisions about self-care and accessing services,” he said.

Eby said that one patient with the three complex needs had gone to an emergency room 180 times in 2023.

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Four other patients went to emergency more than 140 times, while 612 patients went 10 or more times, he said.

Vigo said that for every overdose death, there was a number of overdose-related permanently injured brains.

“Overdose produces brain injury, and when that injury is severe enough to be diagnosed, preliminary evidence indicates that person has a 50 per cent chance of dying in the immediate future, and the survivors (have) an additional 30 per cent chance of dying in the near future.”

He said such injuries can also impair insight, judgment and ability to consent, “all of which make treatment as usual ineffective.”

“We need a whole new approach, one based on the best insights our evidence can produce,” he said.

Vigo, who is an assistant professor at UBC’s school of population and public health, will be expected to look at other jurisdictions for advice on how to deal with the problem.

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With files from Canadian Press


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