VANCOUVER - An 18-month pilot project is being expanded across British Columbia after more than double the number of drug-addicted people stayed in treatment to stop them from fatally overdosing.

The initiative, led by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and Vancouver Coastal Health, uses the same strategy that helped drive down the province's HIV and AIDS rates.

Dr. Rolando Barrios, the centre's senior medical director, says it involves tracking patients who don't show up for appointments and uses a team of doctors, nurses and social workers to follow them through treatment to help with their needs such as housing and employment.

The pilot at 17 clinics in Vancouver involved 1,100 patients and showed seven out of 10 of them stayed in treatment after three months, up from three people, as part of a program that prescribes substitute opioids to curb drug cravings and ward off withdrawal symptoms.

Barrios says retaining people who are addicted to opioids like heroin and fentanyl in treatment is the biggest hurdle in the overdose crisis that has claimed thousands of lives.

He says the expansion of the pilot involves simple steps such as reminding patients when their medication is about to expire and having pharmacies connect with health-care teams when people don't pick up their medications.