Fraser Health expands access to opioid subsitute

Methadone and suboxone used as a substitute for illicit drugs that may contain fentanyl

  • Sat Dec 17th, 2016 5:00am
  • News

There have been 28 illicit drug overdose deaths in Abbotsford through Oct. 31

by Owen Munro, Abbotsford News

Fraser Health will expand access to methadone and suboxone at Abbotsford Community Services as it looks to address the opioid overdose crisis in one of the most affected cities.

Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) replaces illicit drugs with a longer acting opioid like methadone and suboxone, and is typically administered in a supervised setting. According to Fraser Health’s chief medical officer Dr. Victoria Lee, it has been proven to relieve the symptoms of withdrawal and can reduce high-risk behaviours.

“There’s evidence that shows opioid substitution should be first on the line of treatments,” Lee said.

“A lot of people think of detox as being first on the line, but detox sometimes has the highest risk for overdoses because you become naive to the opioids you’re using.”

The expansion of the services was announced alongside two new supervised injection sites that will be opened in Surrey, another area that has been hit extremely hard by fentanyl overdoses. Lee also noted that Fraser Health has looked at whether a supervised-injection site would be feasible in Abbotsford.

But some are casting their doubts about whether this will do anything to curb the rampant trail of destruction fentanyl is leaving.

Abbotsford Police Const. Ian MacDonald said he’s unsure whether the announcement will have a profound effect, given that it still comes down to people buying illicit drugs that have high toxicity.

“My fear is that the fentanyl, and all of the analogues of it, are in such great abundance that those potential counter-measures may not have the impact people are hoping for,” MacDonald said in an email.

Abbotsford has been of the hardest-struck communities in 2016, seeing 28 deaths through Oct. 31. Figures from November have not yet been released.

Erica Thompson, an outreach worker for the Warm Zone women’s outreach centre, said any news about expanding treatment options for drug users is good news. Thompson is a former heroin user who has previously been in a methadone treatment program and believes it can be advantageous in helping people wean themselves off of drugs such as heroin.

“Any initiative like this is something that I support and something that is desperately needed,” Thompson said. “There’s a lot of stigma around addiction that can be erased.”

Lee agrees that the stigmatization around addiction and overdoses are not conducive to a proper dialogue, saying OST would be a huge lifeline for people who desperately need help.