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Correctional Health spreads its success story internationally

Correctional Health’s initiative to improve the health of incarcerated people to keep them safe from opioid overdose is gaining prominence across North America and Europe.
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"We could be going to conferences and making presentations all the time," said Andrew MacFarlane, Executive Director, Correctional Health. "We are doing groundbreaking work here, and it's starting to attract a lot of attention."

Over the past year alone, Correctional Health has been presented to no fewer than three international gatherings. The most recent presentation took place in October, at the 2nd Annual Health without Barriers Conference of the European Federation for Prison Health. The federation is network of associations and experts committed to promoting healthy prison environments for the public benefit of the entire population.

While BC's incarcerated population is often dealing with opioid addiction and mental health challenges, the European scenario is quite different. There, correctional facilities are dealing with health-related issues linked to alcohol addiction, Hep C and HIV, and challenges related to migrant health.

"Although our challenges are different, our care model can be adapted to address whatever health care needs require support," said MacFarlane. "Our approach is a great example of how we're showing the world that correctional health is public health."

Correctional Health, a program of BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, assumed responsibility in 2017 to deliver health care to the more than 18,000 individuals who flow in and out of BC's 10 correctional centres each year. A private provider previously provided contracted health care to the corrections population across BC.

Approximately 60% of those incarcerated in BC have mental health and/or substance use disorder. Since assuming responsibility over Correctional Care, there has been a trend upwards in the percentage of clients starting Opioid Agonist Therapy (OAT). In fact, approximately 40% of clients are now on OAT, making Correctional Health a leader in North America in providing OAT to incarcerated populations.

But, according to MacFarlane, the need for improved correctional health care doesn't end at the correctional centre's walls. To this end, community clinics now exist to help the recently released continue to address their addictions and mental health challenges outside the prison setting.

"Consistent, high-quality health care and seamless care transitions back into the community to support adherence to OAT therapy are vital for these clients," said MacFarlane. "It's gratifying that other jurisdictions are now looking at our team's work and want to learn more."

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