Advisor appointed to improve care for people with complex mental-health, addiction challenges

Press Release

June 5, 2024

VANCOUVER – The Province is taking action to improve care for a growing population with overlapping mental-health and addiction challenges and brain injuries from toxic-drug poisonings by appointing a chief scientific advisor to develop solutions to address their unique needs.

Dr. Daniel Vigo will be B.C.’s chief scientific advisor for psychiatry, toxic drugs and concurrent disorders. Vigo will work across disciplines to tap into a breadth of experience and expertise in the province with the goal of improving care for this group of patients. He will also work closely with the provincial health officer, health authorities, Indigenous partners and people with lived experience to analyze existing mental-health and addictions treatment services in B.C., review data and best practices, and look to other jurisdictions for proven solutions that can be implemented in B.C. The findings and recommendations will be reported to government on an ongoing basis so actions can be taken to make improvements in a timely way.

“As the toxic-drug crisis changes, we’re facing new challenges and grappling with a growing group of people who are very sick and struggling in our streets and emergency rooms. The current situation is not working for these people and it’s not working for our communities,” said Premier David Eby. “We’re taking action, working with Dr. Vigo, to develop new tools to help this very specific group of people so that they get the help that they need, and our communities stay safe, healthy and welcoming for everyone.”

Vigo will provide ongoing advice on how to improve care for this new, growing group of patients who are 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.

“We are in a new and increasingly challenging phase of the toxic-drug crisis,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “Synthetic opioids are significantly more powerful, dangerous and unpredictable than they were even 10 years ago. There are people who are suffering from opioid use disorder and concurrent mental illness, who have now acquired brain injury from multiple overdoses and struggle to navigate life and the health-care system. Dr. Vigo’s work will help us find way to help people who need it the most.”

An increasing number of people have acquired brain injuries after overdosing on synthetic opioids. Some may also have injuries from repeated toxic-drug poisonings. Their symptoms of psychosis and other behavioural challenges can impact their own safety, as well as the safety of others. In addition, data from 2023 shows how patients with overlapping needs who live and get care in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside may often suffer repeated health emergencies:

  • One patient went to the emergency room 180 times.
  • Four patients went to emergency room more than 140 times.
  • 612 patients went to the emergency department 10 or more times.

“There’s an extremely high prevalence of brain injury in overdose survivors. In fact, at its most severe, half survivors die in the immediate future and another third in the near future,” Vigo 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. My office’s mandate is to access all relevant data, develop centralized analysis and interpretation, and provide ongoing recommendations to improve and evaluate our health-system response.”

Vigo’s work will support the Province’s strategy to address the toxic-drug crisis and will build on the actions government is taking to expand access to mental-health and addictions care, including increasing early intervention and prevention, treatment and recovery services, supportive and complex care housing, harm reduction, and more.

Quotes:

Adrian Dix, Minister of Health –

“We need to ensure everyone, including those with more complex needs, receives the support they need to lead healthier, more fulfiling lives. With Dr. Vigo in this new role, we are further strengthening our health-care system to better serve people in the province.”

Shirley Chan, past president, board of directors, Pathways Serious Mental Illness Society –

“In my experience, people with complex mental-health and addiction challenges are stigmatized and dismissed, but they are also loved and deserve better. Having had the opportunity to work with Dr. Vigo and the assertive community teams, I can confirm that Dr. Vigo knows and understands the needs of this vulnerable group. He will now be positioned to do even more to support and improve care and services for these people in his new role.”

Faydra Aldridge, chief executive officer, BC Schizophrenia Society –

“Mental illness rarely occurs in isolation. Untreated, it can lead to additional health challenges, including addiction. We’re seeing a growing number of families affected by mental illness and addiction challenges who can’t find the care that meets their needs. I’m glad the Province is taking action to improve care for this vulnerable group and provide support for the many individuals who are affected.”

Quick Facts:

  • Available BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) data from Jan. 1, 2015, to Dec. 31, 2021, shows 52,227 people had a drug poisoning event.
  • Of those, 41,401 people (79%) had a non-fatal drug poisoning event.
  • Some clinical and research evidence indicates that some individuals are enduring often lifelong consequences of experiencing non-fatal toxic drug poisoning, including brain injuries.

Learn More:

To learn about mental-health and substance-use supports in B.C., visit: https://helpstartshere.gov.bc.ca/

A backgrounder follows.

Contacts:

Jimmy Smith
Deputy Communications Director
Office of the Premier
jimmy.smith@gov.bc.ca

Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions
Media Relations
250 208-0305

Ministry of Health
Communications
250 952-1887


BACKGROUNDER

Biography of chief scientific advisor for psychiatry, toxic drugs and concurrent disorders

Dr. Daniel Vigo will be B.C.’s chief scientific advisor for psychiatry, toxic drugs and concurrent disorders.

Vigo is a psychiatrist, psychologist and public-health specialist leading the Mental Health Systems and Services Lab at the University of British Columbia, where he is faculty at the department of psychiatry and the School of Population and Public Health. He has university degrees in clinical psychology, medicine, psychiatry and public health, as well as post-doctoral fellowships in psychiatry from Columbia University (U.S.) and the University of British Columbia.

Vigo holds multiple appointments nationally and internationally, including as the provincial medical lead for the Advanced Practice of Assertive Community Treatment in B.C., medical lead for tertiary care for Vancouver Coastal Health’s Regional Mental Health and Substance Use Program, chair of the Health Services Working Group of the WHO-World Mental Health Services Initiative, and lecturer at Harvard Medical School. He also serves as an advisor to the World Health Organization.

Through these multiple roles, he provides leadership and support for the most complex patients in the province.

Contacts:

Jimmy Smith
Deputy Communications Director
Office of the Premier
jimmy.smith@gov.bc.ca

Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions
Media Relations
250 208-0305

Ministry of Health
Communications
250 952-1887

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