Mary Marlow, START Manager, Adrienne Horsfield, Coordinator, Karyn Gouldhawke, Nurse, Patricia Smith, Administration, Malgorzata Dziubek, Administration

More Vancouver clients STARTing to detox at home

Sandy, a health care worker, and her husband Dave, a tradesman, (not their real names) called Vancouver Coastal Health’s START program on New Year’s Day.

We were both addicted to opioids, pawning and losing our possessions to pay for drugs, lying to our families.~Sandy

Sandy’s husband got hooked on opioids nearly a decade ago after being prescribed painkillers for a workplace injury. She started using drugs while struggling with depression.

Since the Substance use Treatment and Response Team (START) launched in August 2016, it has helped 329 people like Sandy and Dave detox at home, and has the capacity to assist 400 clients per year.

START caters to clients from all walks of life, according to Mary Marlow, Manager of Mental Health & Substance Use, VCH. She says many of START’s clients are employed and struggling with addiction. The team has had teachers, single mothers with children, construction workers and those with disabilities seek help.

For many, residential detox is not an option because of the associated stigma.~Mary Marlow

STARTing to detox in two weeks

START is a two week program. During the first week, clients are assessed by a nurse and physician and followed with daily home visits. Suboxone is often prescribed for opioid addiction and benzodiazepine for alcohol addiction to assist with withdrawal management. The second week of the program involves stabilizing clients and connecting them to ongoing support. Family physicians take over the prescribing of medication once the individual is stable. Everyone who goes through the START program for opioid addiction is connected to ongoing opioid replacement therapy in order to mitigate the risk of overdose.

The START program recently began providing services to youth, as long as they have a support person in place to monitor their withdrawal. The program is available to Vancouver residents who are living in, or have access to, stable, substance-free housing. START can help connect clients to short-term transition beds if they require a stable environment to go through the rapid detoxification program.


START accepts referrals directly from clients or their doctors, and services can begin within 24 hours of making contact with the program. For more information contact START: 604-675-2455, press 2, then 22574  or Vancouver Coastal Health has a range of health care and support services for those struggling with substance use. Like most illnesses, getting early treatment is important. Clients can access all services through Access Central: 1-866-658-1221.

Sandy and Dave are now 10 months substance-free.

We are so appreciative of what the START team has done for us. Being able to detox at home with my husband and have a support team of doctors and nurses certainly contributed to our success. Without START, I’m not sure where we would be today.~Sandy

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