The article you just read was brought to you by a few thousand dedicated readers. Will you join them?

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past year, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
Before you click away, we have something to ask you…

Do you value independent journalism that focuses on the issues that matter? Do you think Canada needs more in-depth, fact-based reporting? So do we. If you’d like to be part of the solution, we’d love it if you joined us in working on it.

The Tyee is an independent, paywall-free, reader-funded publication. While many other newsrooms are getting smaller or shutting down altogether, we’re bucking the trend and growing, while still keeping our articles free and open for everyone to read.

The reason why we’re able to grow and do more, and focus on quality reporting, is because our readers support us in doing that. Over 5,000 Tyee readers chip in to fund our newsroom on a monthly basis, and that supports our rockstar team of dedicated journalists.

Join a community of people who are helping to build a better journalism ecosystem. You pick the amount you’d like to contribute on a monthly basis, and you can cancel any time.

Help us make Canadian media better by joining Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
Get our free newsletter
Sign Up
Rights + Justice
BC Politics

Drug Use Treatment Services to Expand as ‘Waitlists Have Become Death Lists’

Province announces funding for recovery, but critics say the prolonged toxic drug crisis needs more action.

Moira Wyton 13 Oct 2021 |

Moira Wyton is The Tyee’s health reporter. Follow her @moirawyton or reach her here. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

The B.C. government says it will spend $132 million over the next three years to expand treatment and recovery services in the province, funding that comes from among the $500 million already allocated in the April budget.

The money will support services “at every step” of someone’s path to recovery, Minister for Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson said outside St. Paul’s Hospital in Downtown Vancouver today.

Much-needed detox spaces, 195 new treatment beds, supportive housing and occupational therapy for people completing treatment will be established in every region of the province through the Ministry of Health and health authorities. Two new peer advisors will be hired at St. Paul’s alone.

“Our vision of a seamless and integrated system of mental health and addictions care is getting closer,” said Malcolmson as ambulance sirens wailed in the background on their way to the busy downtown hospital.

Mark Haggerty, a peer advisor at St. Paul’s, said having detox and treatment resources available when someone is ready to begin recovery is essential to ensure they don’t lose momentum.

“As someone with an addiction, when I needed help… and this is known, there’s a small opportunity to get that help,” said Haggerty, who has been in recovery for eight years. “If you have to wait too long, that opportunity is gone.”

Malcolmson and Vancouver Coastal Health chief medical officer Dr. Patricia Daly said this will be a major change in the province’s sixth year of the overdose public health emergency.

Nearly 3,000 people have died since January 2020. Last year was the most fatal year for toxic drug overdoses on record in the province, and 2021 continues to be terrible.

But expanding treatment and recovery services alone doesn’t address the root cause of deaths: a toxic and unpredictable criminalized drug supply.

Guy Felicella, a peer advisor at the BC Centre on Substance Use, noted there are “two separate crises”: failed addiction treatment and an illicit-drug poisoning crisis.

“And we need to do both, but really I would like to see the numbers of people dying each month go down. And I’d also like to see accessible services for people in addiction scaled up.”

Not everyone who is dying of poisoned drugs was addicted or had a substance use disorder, Felicella said. “It’s a toxic poisoned drugs crisis, and that needs to be addressed off the bat.”

The province has issued a directive expanding programs to provide users with safe, non-poisoned drugs, although critics have said it is too restrictive and narrow. And it does not include access to heroin.

Malcolmson said supplying heroin has not been ruled out and the province is working on creating a domestic supply.

She and Providence Health Care CEO Fiona Dalton also said neither the ministry nor a health authority had been involved in the decision to end the first of its kind take-home heroin program at Crosstown Clinic just two weeks after its start. Users are typically only allowed to consume heroin on site.

No reasons have been provided for the cancellation. “We’ll have more news on that as soon as we can,” said Malcolmson.

Felicella said issues like these demonstrate that safe supply needs to be provided outside the medical system, through approaches like compassion clubs. Vancouver city council has supported a compassion club’s request that the federal government allow it to distribute untainted cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.

As the safe supply file inches ahead, Felicella says he is glad to see more people who do have substance use disorders get support.

Every day he gets calls from desperate people and their loved ones trying to find detox spaces or supportive housing after they finish treatment.

One man’s family recently had to pay more than $6,000 for the first week at a private detox facility for alcohol, after their son told Felicella he would surely die waiting the two to three weeks quoted at other public facilities.

“Waitlists have become death lists,” said Felicella. “People shouldn’t have to be desperate; they should be supported.”

Malcolmson sidestepped a question about how long waitlists are or whether the province will track waitlist lengths in the mental health and addiction care system as it does with surgeries.

New services, she said, will go where health authorities have already identified bottlenecks.

Felicella said anything that helps people get the care they want and stay close to their communities and support systems is a good thing.

But issues in the current system are still costing people their lives and precious time, he said.

“In an emergency with water gushing in, when will it be time to stop patching holes and just build a new boat?”  [Tyee]

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Comments that violate guidelines risk being deleted, and violations may result in a temporary or permanent user ban. Maintain the spirit of good conversation to stay in the discussion.
*Please note The Tyee is not a forum for spreading misinformation about COVID-19, denying its existence or minimizing its risk to public health.


  • Be thoughtful about how your words may affect the communities you are addressing. Language matters
  • Challenge arguments, not commenters
  • Flag trolls and guideline violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity, learn from differences of opinion
  • Verify facts, debunk rumours, point out logical fallacies
  • Add context and background
  • Note typos and reporting blind spots
  • Stay on topic

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist, homophobic or transphobic language
  • Ridicule, misgender, bully, threaten, name call, troll or wish harm on others
  • Personally attack authors or contributors
  • Spread misinformation or perpetuate conspiracies
  • Libel, defame or publish falsehoods
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities
  • Post links without providing context


The Barometer

Tyee Poll: Are You Preparing for the Next Climate Disaster?

Take this week's poll