Providence Crosstown Clinic (Providence Health Care)

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.

opioid crisis

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Elias Pettersson and the Vancouver Canucks drew a large crowd to the Abbotsford Centre in 2019. Canucks management hopes the crowds return for the planned AHL team this fall, and early returns are positive. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
Canucks: ‘Incredible’ early interest for Abbotsford AHL tickets

Team has had a strong response to both e-mail information and priority ticket lists

Red dot shows location where fisherman was rescued by boater on Friday, May 7, 2021. Other fisher still missing presumed drowned after boat swamped on Fraser River near Vedder/Sumas confluence. Rescued man swam to shore after boat sank, while friend is still classified as missing as of May 10. (City of Chilliwack map)
Fisherman still missing after boat flipped on the Fraser River

One man made it out, other still missing, after anchor got snagged in the Fraser near Chilliwack

Corina Rochon has been working the front lines of the pandemic in the intensive care unit at Abbotsford Regional Hospital. She is also an instructor in the nursing program at University of the Fraser Valley.
Pandemic the most challenging of Abbotsford nurse’s 16-year career

Corina Rochon works front lines at Abbotsford Regional Hospital

Joan Septembre went for a weekend hike at Lindeman Lake, parking next to a vehicle that had two windows smashed in. (submitted photo)
Thieves active at Lindeman Lake and other parking spots along Chilliwack Lake Road

The hiking community is lamenting an uptick in car theft and vandalism as the weather gets nicer

Dario Lopez comes to the Cascades from Madrid, Spain where he played in very competitive junior leagues. (Dan Kinvig/UFV Athletics)
UFV Cascades sign Spanish basketball talent

High-scoring forward Dario Lopez joins team for 2021-22 season

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Dr. Victoria Lee, CEO of Fraser Health, hosts an update on efforts to contain B.C.’s COVID-19 transmission in Surrey and the Fraser Valley and protect hospitals in the Lower Mainland, May 6, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate slowing, 20 more people die

Deaths include two people in their 40s, two in their 50s

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read