Already Fraser Health’s latest initiatives to combat the overdose crisis appear to be working in Maple Ridge.
The health authority is improving access to front-line treatment for opioid addiction through medications Suboxone and methadone with new clinics in Maple Ridge, Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Mission, Langley and Burnaby.
The program started at Alouette Addictions in mid-July, and enjoyed an 80 per cent boost in the number of clients, up to 170 to start September.
There is a broad range of people who suffer from opioid use disorders, and Dr. Victoria Lee, chief medical health officer, cautioned against a stereotype of opioid users as street-entrenched addicts.
She noted that 70 per cent of the people who die of drug overdoses are in private residences or their own home.
“People think of one kind of user, but it ranges quite a bit,” she said.
Many would rather grapple with their problem on their own, rather than admit they are addicted.
“The underlying issue is stigma and shame,” said Lee. “This is a medical condition like any other.”
She said having 170 people undergoing treatment in Maple Ridge is a healthy number.
Alouette Addictions offers physician support from two addictions specialists who are available four days per week. There is also a nurse practitioner at the facility on Fridays.
Annika Polegato, the executive director of Alouette Addictions, said the changes make the facility a fully-funded opioid agonist program. If clients have to come up with even $50 that can be a barrier to treatment, she said, and now they can access services free.
Alouette offers individual counselling, group programs and housing programs with subsidies. In addition to those mentioned above.
“We’re here to provide services to any person from any walk of life,” she said. “Now it’s completely funded, so there’s no barrier.”
While many people discussing the issue of addiction talk about detox, Lee said the medical use of Suboxone and methadone help people transition away from opioids safely. Using these prescribed medications is an evidence-based treatment that stabilizes a person who is addicted to opioids and assists them with recovery.
“By providing these medications, we can reduce the possibility of people dying from the consumption of substances and improve the health and well-being of clients and their families,” Lee said.
Because an opioid user builds up resistance to the drug, if they relapse after detox and take a dose similar to what they had in the past, it could cause an overdose.
Lee said the crisis is not going away.
“We’ve seen movement back and force, and we’ve seen a surge …”
She noted that in the last week of August, there were 17 deaths in an area from Surrey to Hope.
“It makes a big difference what kind of substance is circulating.”
Fraser Health will soon be implementing a new program that will allow people to begin taking Suboxone and methadone when visiting some emergency departments.
“People with opioid addiction are able to stabilize and get their lives back on track with medications like Suboxone and methadone, which are key treatments in our battle against the terrible toll overdoses are taking on our communities throughout B.C.,” said Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy.
“We have been working with health authorities and the B.C. Centre on Substance Use to make these important medications more widely available so that people can start getting the help they need.
In 2016/2017, Fraser Health saw 2,476 patients with Suboxone prescriptions compared to 1,362 patients in 2015/2016 – an 82-per-cent increase.
“The new program within our emergency departments will see people begin treatment with Suboxone in hospital, and within two to three days they will be referred to their community for continued treatment at a clinic or with their physician for ongoing monitoring and support,” Lee said. “This increased access will support people who use opioids and are ready to begin treatment for their opioid dependence.”
• For more information about opioid treatment, please visit: www.fraserhealth.ca/opioidtreatment.