People in and around nine rural communities in Central Alberta are the first in the province to access a new opiate replacement therapy program via videoconferencing so they don’t have to travel to access treatment.
In April the Central Zone Rural Opioid Dependency Program was made available to Rocky Mountain House, Stettler, Ponoka and Wetaskiwin, and this week Sylvan Lake, Olds, Drayton Valley, Camrose, and Wainwright were added to the program.
“I’ve seen people over the years where they were treated in urban programs and doing well but because of life circumstances they had to leave the urban centre and go off treatment and everything fell apart for them,” said Dr. Nathaniel Day, an addictions medicine specialist leading the program based out of Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury in Ponoka.
“Unless you have someone with the time and resources to travel and be seen very regularly, and often at first daily, they’re not able to access treatment at all.”
People must get medical clearance from a doctor to be referred to the program before a physician meets with them by videoconferencing to determine if they should receive Suboxone to deal with their withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings.
Clients are responsible for the cost of Suboxone which may be covered under health plans.
Day said over and over again he’s heard from clients that once they get treatment they feel like themselves again.
“We have clients that we’re seeing right now that have had friends or partners who have died of overdose, who they themselves have struggles, who are getting their lives back.”
Funding for the program came from a $3-million Alberta Health grant to increase access to opioid replacement therapy to respond to Alberta’s opioid crisis. Some money also went to Central Alberta Methadone Program in Red Deer for addiction counselling.
Day said counselling is also part of the new rural program. Videoconferencing is held at addiction and mental health clinics that already exist in the communities. Within a couple weeks of starting the program clients meet with clinic counsellors.
“We’re really excited that we’ve been able to increase access to really what is the gold standard for opioid addiction here in Central Alberta.
“It’s my hope that when we show that this is an effective way for delivering care that eventually it actually could be expanded out to all rural communities in Alberta,” Day said.
This week the province established a $30-million emergency commission to increase Alberta’s ability to respond to the opioid crisis that includes increasing treatment and providing more access to opioid replacement therapy.
Sarah Fleck, interim operational manager at Turning Point, said hopefully more replacement therapy also comes with drug coverage to pay for therapy.
She said last month Turning Point heard about four drug fatalities and 60 overdose reversals with the help naloxone.
“We’re seeing the impact every day and aware that naloxone is only one very small part of the response when the picture is so much bigger. I’m hoping the commission will fill the rest of the needs that we have,” Fleck said.