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

Minerals North to draw hundreds

This is second time Houston has hosted northern mining industry.

NWCC gets green light for name change

The name Coast Mountain College in effect as of June 18

Tree branch damages VIA Rail train between Prince Rupert and Prince George

Passenger train has delayed the scheduled route on April 22

Students want Smithers to take on plastic bag problem

After a survey that had 430 responses, Hannah Pow and Jessica Walton laid out a plan.

Rural recycle depot opens

RDBN gets into recycling

UPDATED: 10 killed, 15 injured after van hits pedestrians in Toronto

Toronto police say ten people have died and 15 are injured

Trudeau calls van attack ‘horrific and senseless’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calls van attack ‘horrific and senseless,’ says no apparent terror link

Officer’s actions ‘one shining moment’ after Toronto van attack

Arresting officer’s actions ‘one shining moment’ in the wake of Toronto van attack

Judith Guichon steps down as Lieutenant Governor of B.C.

Election decision didn’t make her best moments from the past six years

Vancouver to rake in $30 million in empty homes tax in first year

The tax is the first of its kind in Canada, and was intended to address the city’s near-zero vacancy rate

B.C.’s snowpack continues to increase, melting delayed

River Forecast Centre official says sudden melting further into the season could cause flooding

Another B.C. First Nation voices support for Kinder Morgan pipeline

Simpcw First Nation claims people living on one-third of pipeline route support the project

Malicious Monster Truck Tour coming to Northwest B.C. this summer

It’s the first time in 20 years monster trucks have rolled past Prince George for a northern show

Protesters argue both sides of B.C.’s SOGI curriculum at teachers’ union office

The sexual orientation and gender identity program was launched as a pilot project last year

Most Read