Providence Crosstown Clinic (Providence Health Care)

Overdose Crisis

As feds ease access to prescription heroin, B.C. could see relief: doctor

Doctor at only clinic in Canada to offer medical-grade heroin says federal move good for B.C.

A doctor working the front lines at Canada’s only clinic to offer prescription heroin says Ottawa’s recent move to make access to safe opioids easier could very-well help curb the death toll in the B.C.

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor announced Monday that legal changes will allow Canadians suffering from opioid use to have access to prescription heroin in addiction clinics, while methadone treatment will be available through health-care practitioners without any need for federal exemption.

At Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver, lead physician Scott MacDonald said about 130 patients are currently seeking injectable diacetylmorphine – the active ingredient in heroin.

“It’s a difficult treatment to take,” he said. “It’s not easy to come here three times a day, and for people to do that is a testament to their health and being well.”

Through its provincially-funded heroin maintenance program, the clinic allows people who did not see success through other forms of addiction treatments inject the medical-grade heroin as many as three times a day.

The clinic, run as a hospital by Health Canada standards, has been offering the historically controversial treatment for four years, originally mirroring evidence-based treatments implemented in Europe.

MacDonald told Black Press Media that while specific details on how the federal government plans to ease access for drug users are still in the works, access to clean and safe drug treatments like prescription heroin and suboxone could bring relief to all corners of the province.

READ MORE: Physiotherapy could help combat B.C.’s opioid crisis, report says

READ MORE: First Nations people in B.C. three times more likely to die of overdose

READ MORE: B.C.’s first public health emergency continues

“There certainly could be more standalone clinics like Crosstown,” he said, “but in remote areas [with fewer people] this could be incorporated into any primary community health centre and potentially even be prescribed in pharmacies.”

Since the province declared its own health emergency in 2016 – following a devastating increase in the number of overdose deaths caused by the illicit opioid fentanyl – B.C.’s top health officials have recommended prescription heroin and suboxone treatments in order to provide a spectrum of support for recovering drug users.

Health Canada estimates that 4,000 people died last year from illicit drug overdoses – more than 1,400 of those deaths occurring in B.C.

“Canadians are accepting this is a chronic relapsing illness – just like diabetes or high blood pressure – but manageable with treatment,” MacDonald said.

Currently, about three people each day die of an overdose in the province, according to the latest stats from the Coroners Service.

READ MORE: Treat opioid addiction as a chronic disease, says B.C. addictions expert

READ MORE: B.C. sees 125 overdose deaths in January 2018

READ MORE: Fentanyl-linked overdose deaths soar in B.C.

The patients that walk through Crosstown Clinic’s doors are “long-term drug users,” averaging about 15 years, who have been through treatment more than 10 times but haven’t seen any success.

It’s a continuum of care, like what’s currently offered at Crosstown Clinic, that’s allowed for about 20 per cent of patients to decrease from prescribed heroin to less intensive treatment options.

“Diacetylmorphine is just another opioid, it’s just another pharmaceutical like hydromorphone or morphine. Yes it needs to be kept safe and secure but it doesn’t need to be treated any different,” Macdonald said.

And while the rising death toll is one facet of the overdose crisis, MacDonald said prescribed heroin would lower the costs of treating those suffering from opioid use.

Access to the clean drugs at Crosstown costs the province roughly $25,000 per patient per year.

“There is certainly the toll of lives lost, but the cost of somebody using illicit opiods just to the criminal justice system is enormous,” MacDonald said. In a study conducted by the group behind Crosstown Clinic in 2000, it costs the criminal justice system about $48,000 per drug user each year, not including the cost of damage to property or stolen goods, he said.

“The bulk of the people that are dying have been in long-term users, and in those folks that continue to use illicit opioids, injectable treatment with diacetylmorphine and hydromorphone – it is not only superior care it is cost-effective,” he said.

“It’s just time for this to expand, the evidence supporting that has been around for many, many years.”


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Editorial: Be a fan of our unofficial civic sport, bathtubbing

Nanaimo’ Bathtub Weekend starts today, July 20, and culminates with the great race Sunday, July 22

Accident in Nanaimo after artillery gun rolls down hill and damages taxi

Accident happened in Comox Road and Terminal Avenue area Saturday afternoon

Lantzville politicians deny claims made against them in lawsuit

Civil lawsuit involves an accounting business sold by Colin and Denise Haime

Lantzville teen breaks BC Summer Games race walking record

Zone 6 athlete Olivia Lundman crossed finish line with ease, to loud cheers in Cowichan

Closing arguments complete in trial of Nanaimo man representing self in fatal crash case

Judge expected to render decision Monday, July 23 at B.C. Supreme Court in Nanaimo

All-Indigenous teams break new ground, making BC Games history

This is the first time there have been dedicated Indigenous teams at the BC Summer Games

Beefs & Bouquets, July 19

To submit a beef or a bouquet to the Nanaimo News Bulletin, e-mail bulletinboard@nanaimobulletin.com

Sr. A Timbermen can clinch a berth in WLA playoffs

A Burnaby loss tonight or a Nanaimo win on Sunday would put the T-men in the post-season

Final arguments made at tent city hearing, court won’t rule immediately

Lawyer says City of Nanaimo is concerned occupants would consume hand sanitizer

Recovery high schools could help teens before addiction takes hold: B.C. parents

Schools could provide mental health supports and let parents discuss their children’s drug use openly

Haida Gwaii village faces housing crisis, targets short-term rentals

Housing is tight and the village is pretty close to zero vacancy

Evacuation numbers remain at nearly 1,000 as B.C. wildfires rage on

200 firefighters and 18 helicopters were working to increase the containment of the fires

B.C. VIEWS: Unions regain control of public construction

B.C.’s 40-year battle swings back to international big labour

Brush fire breaks out west of Port Alberni

Fire forces partial closure of Highway 4 heading to Ucluelet and Tofino

Most Read