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August 29, 2018

Getting the right help for patients with addictions

A crisis can prompt the best minds to come together with the right idea at the right time.

As opioid abuse began to emerge as a hot button issue in Hamilton and throughout North America, it became clear our community needed a solution, not just to the opioid crisis, but to addiction as a whole.

In a partnership with the City of Hamilton’s Public Health Alcohol, Drug & Gambling Services (ADGS) program, Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) launched a pilot program to provide better care for patients with addictions.

The seven-week pilot identified patients who would benefit from the expertise of an ADGS addictions specialist, who could then refer those patients to the right care they need at that time.

“We want to provide the best care possible for all patients at HHS.”

“What we want to do, quite simply, is provide the best care possible for all patients at HHS,” says Kelly O’Halloran, director of community and population health services at HHS. “We partnered with experts to implement best practices for patients struggling with addictions.”

Just under 20 patients were involved in the pilot, most of whom were already served by HHS’ Outreach Team. They ranged in age from 25-74 years old and most were male with a family income below the poverty line.

What may surprise some is most patients admitted to HHS with substance abuse problems have a dependency on alcohol. In fact, 85% of cases are alcohol-related as opposed to drug overdoses.

Positive outcomes for patients

There were mostly positive outcomes after the program ended. Some patients reduced their alcohol consumption and lowered the amount of times they visited hospitals.

More importantly, they stayed connected with HHS’ Outreach Team and continue to engage in addictions-related services.

“We valued this partnership with ADGS,” says Kelly. “Once we referred patients to them, they could go more in depth to explore triggers of substance use and help connect patients to the most appropriate resources in the community.”

Removing the stigma

One of the goals of this pilot was to help build capacity of HHS staff so they can offer better care for patients with addictions.

Kelly and others involved with the pilot also want to reduce the stigma attached to this segment of the population.

“The pilot showed how we can make a better transition for patients into the community.”

Having that expert available who can have those discussions with patients was a necessary ingredient for making an impact on their lives, Kelly adds.

Dr. Tim O’Shea, who launched the Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team (HAMSMaRT) to help those in need—including patients with addictions—works with patients with opioid use disorder in the hospital.

“We were missing some support in the way of an addictions specialist who could link patients to community resources,” says Dr. O’Shea, a specialist in internal medicine and infectious disease at Hamilton Health Sciences.

“The main potential benefit to this type of program would be to strengthen the links between hospital and community care providers, and allow for a better transition for patients into the community once they are treated,” he adds.

HHS hopes to expand this program beyond the pilot and will continue to partner with groups like ADGS to improve patient care.