Abbotsford OAT Centre program co-ordinator Lesley Braithwaite (right) and mental health support worker Jennica Gill say their suboxone/methadone service can stabilize lives to help heal addictions. For some, they say prescription heroin could serve that purpose more effectively. Dustin Godfrey/Abbotsford News

Overdose Crisis

No prescription heroin in Abbotsford anytime soon: Fraser Health

Opioid treatment workers say prescription heroin could be more effective than suboxone or methadone

It doesn’t appear likely that the city will see any initiatives to take on prescription heroin anytime soon, just over a year after Abbotsford’s first publicly funded opioid replacement therapy clinic opened its doors.

In the spring, the federal government began allowing doctors and nurse practitioners to prescribe diacetylmorphine (heroin) without having to apply for a Health Canada exemption to import the substance from the manufacturer in Switzerland.

Collectively with injectable hydromorphone, prescription diacetylmorphine is referred to as injectable opioid agonist therapy (iOAT), and currently there are no clinics providing that service in Abbotsford.

RELATED: Emergency task force calls for safe supply of drugs in Vancouver to prevent ODs

“At this time, we don’t have plans to implement injectable opioid agonist therapy treatment in Abbotsford,” said Fraser Health spokesperson Jacqueline Blackwell.

But the idea is beginning to gain some traction in B.C. According to a recent B.C. Centre on Substance Use report, 21 physicians and two nurse practitioners are now able to prescribe the treatment in the province, while 172 physicians, nurses, pharmacists and specialists, have completed an online training module since last December.

BCCSU spokesperson Kevin Hollet says 21 of the health-care providers who have undergone the online course are from the Fraser Health region, but could not say whether any of those individuals were in Abbotsford.

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

The OAT Centre, Abbotsford’s only publicly funded opioid agonist therapy clinic, celebrated its first anniversary in November, and program co-ordinator Lesley Braithwaite says the clinic has greatly improved access to the treatment in Abbotsford. Before the OAT Centre came along, patients would have to pay at private clinics or go out of town.

Braithwaite notes the underlying issues that ultimately tend to be some of the most important factors in opioid addictions, such as poverty, unstable or nonexistent housing, mental health issues and trauma. But finding housing or a job and going to counselling requires stability in one’s life.

OAT treatments are successful, Braithwaite says, because suboxone and methadone offer that stability in the clients’ lives. No longer must they engage in drug seeking behaviours with methadone or suboxone taking care of withdrawal symptoms.

But Braithwaite says the iOAT treatments could make treatment more successful. Having a safe supply of hydromorphone or diacetylmorphine would mean even less chance of relapsing onto dangerous street drugs, providing stability for those not yet ready for suboxone or methadone.

“It stops the pain. … That’s what the research shows. Pain is pain. Same region in the brain the lights up whether you’re in emotional pain or physical pain, and it stops the pain,” Braithwaite said.

“People can’t get off of what they’re addicted to unless they have a reason to.”

A key to success in replacement therapies is the mental health support worker, Jennica Gill, who helps clients find work or housing, get to appointments or pick up prescriptions.

“It’s a proven fact that when you’re on suboxone or methadone treatment, when you’re accessing other resources like counselling or finding work, whatever it may be, you have a higher chance of being successful in your treatment,” Gill said.

While doctors can still be hesitant to prescribe OAT treatments, Gill says it is becoming more normalized in the health-care community.

“I’ve just seen a lot of involvement from the younger generation of doctors, for sure,” Gill said, adding that social pressures can be a barrier to clients.

“We actually have clients who, especially in the Indo-Canadian side of town, actually rather go on the other side of town to go pick up their methadone or suboxone because of the stigma.”

Despite the stigma, the opioid crisis has been pervasive. No longer confined to marginalized communities like the Downtown Eastside, the crisis has been a catalyst for a change in how addictions are viewed, Braithwaite says, leading to expanding health-based services like injectable opioid treatments.

“Everybody is having people that they know, that they never dreamed would do drugs, dying of overdoses,” Braithwaite said. “It’s just happening in such numbers, now, that it’s hard not to take it pretty seriously.”

Find more of our coverage on the overdose crisis here.

Report an error or send us your tips, photos and video.

Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

Send Dustin an email.
Like the Abbotsford News on Facebook.
Follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Come visit the cute little critters at Elizabeth’s Wildlife Center

Abbotsford centre holds annual open house on Aug. 24 and 25

Abbotsford Police ‘speed watchers’ are tops in province

Volunteers record highest increase in patrol hours in ICBC challenge

UPDATE: Abbotsford woman reported missing from Chilliwack has been found

Alexis Neill, 26, located safe and sound, police say

Event supports women’s centre that is at risk of having to move

Abbotsford women’s recovery program holds annual Victory Walk

Son of slain former Hells Angel is one of two men sentenced for crime spree

Pair’s 2017 series of robberies included convenience store in Abbotsford

VIDEO: Facebook rolls out tool to block off-Facebook data gathering

CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the “clear history” feature more than a year ago

B.C. rainbow crosswalk covered in mysterious black substance

Black substance spilled intentionally near Vancouver Island school and difficult to remove

RCMP originally planned to arrest Meng Wanzhou on plane, defence lawyers say

The allegations have not been proven in court. Meng was arrested Dec. 1 at Vancouver airport at the behest of the U.S.

Bodies of two missing Surrey men found near Ashcroft

Ryan Provencher and Richard Scurr have been missing since July 17

Ethics commissioner ready to testify on Trudeau, SNC-Lavalin: NDP critic

A new poll suggests the report hasn’t so far hurt the Liberals’ chances of re-election this fall

Inflation hits Bank of Canada 2% target for second straight month

Prices showed strength in other areas, including an 18.9 per cent increase in the cost of fresh vegetables

VIDEO: Organization’s stolen wheelchair van recovered on backroad near Hope

Wheelchair accessible van is only transportation for some people in Hope area

Pregnant teachers fight to change WorkSafeBC compensation rules

Agency does not recognize risk to unborn babies when mother catches illness from work

Most Read