Alberta pilot program for tough-to-treat opioid users to end in a year

CALGARY — An Alberta pilot program meant to help some of the toughest-to-treat opioid users will end in a year.

The Injectable Opioid Agonist Treatment grant, announced under the former NDP government, was supposed to end this month.

The United Conservative government extended funding until March 31, 2021, to allow patients to transition to other forms of treatment, said a spokeswoman for associate health minister Jason Luan.

“It was always intended as a pilot and the previous government had not identified a transition plan for these patients after the two-year mark,” Kassandra Kitz said in a statement Monday.

“Patients will be transitioned to the health services that are most appropriate for their needs, determined by medical professionals. There are over 20 specialty clinics/programs in Alberta that provide opioid replacement therapy, along with the range of other publicly funded addiction treatment supports offered across Alberta.”

The program is geared toward opioid users for whom no other treatments have worked. It involves injecting hydromorphone two to three times a day and visiting with doctors, nurses, social workers and peer supports.

“It’s for mainly the really hard-to-get patients and the really hard-to-treat patients,” said addictions specialist Monty Ghosh, who works in the program but was not speaking on behalf of it or Alberta Health Services.

There are about 50 patients going through the program each in Calgary and Edmonton.

“These clients typically don’t see health-care professionals at all. They’re usually on the street,” said Ghosh.

“They only go to the emergency departments, for example, when they’re really, really sick. But this provides an opportunity to get to know them.”

Building those relationships requires a lot of staff and makes the program quite expensive to run at approximately $30,000 to $50,000 annually per patient, said Ghosh.

He said there are lower-cost alternatives, such as dispensing the hydromorphone at pharmacies or through supervised consumption services.

“Can it be achieved with other formats? Potentially, but maybe less likely,” said Ghosh. ”So my hope is that the government, understanding that they have fiscal responsibilities, can look at other options that are available, even though they may not be as robust as this, to help with these very vulnerable clients.”

Ghosh said he’s seen his patients benefit in a number of ways, thanks to daily interaction with their care team. Some have fewer legal issues and improved overall health, some transition to stable housing and find employment.

“There’s a lot other benefits to this program than just the addiction piece,” he said. “Their whole quality of life improves.”

Petra Schulz, co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm, said she was dismayed to hear the program wouldn’t be continuing past next year, especially since the United Conservative government has emphasized the need for treatment and recovery over harm reduction.

“It’s heartbreaking. It’s illogical. It’s unethical,” said Schulz, whose 25-year-old son, Danny, died from an accidental fentanyl overdose in 2014.

Schulz said she understands the program is intensive and costly. But she said so are repeated emergency room visits, incarceration and treating illnesses like HIV and hepatitis C.

“We have to think about the long-term cost to society and also the human cost to families.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 9, 2020

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

opioid crisis

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

Just Posted

Alberta confirms 28 new COVID-19 cases, 3 more deaths

There are 28 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alberta, bringing the… Continue reading

Community garden plots are allowed to grow again

Community garden plots allowed to grow again A modified community garden plot… Continue reading

Rocky Mountain House RCMP seize guns, more than $14K in cash after curfew check

Rocky Mountain House RCMP came upon an expected seizure Wednesday. During a… Continue reading

Visitors should stay home this long weekend, say central Alberta’s resort communities

Social distancing and other virus prevention measures must override pleasure trips

UPDATE: Canadians awake to extra COVID-19 emergency benefit money, feds clarify changes

The CRA and federal officials are working to clarify the confusion around payments

Red Deer businesses still serving

BY PAUL COWLEY ADVOCATE STAFF… Continue reading

Alberta Health Services provides COVID-19 prevention tips

Alberta Health Services has a number of recommendations for people amid the… Continue reading

Alberta government website has latest COVID-19 statistics

Red Deer Advocate readers can stay up to date on the COVID-19… Continue reading

Alberta announces extra $1B to create jobs repairing roads, bridges, schools

Alberta announces extra $1B to create jobs repairing roads, bridges, schools

Alberta doctors file lawsuit against province over changes to billing

Alberta doctors file lawsuit against province over changes to billing

Leafs’ Matthews hoping to take care of ‘unfinished business’ if season resumes

Leafs’ Matthews hoping to take care of ‘unfinished business’ if season resumes

No ice, big problem: Nothing mimics skating for NHL players

No ice, big problem: Nothing mimics skating for NHL players

Oilers forward Cave remains in medically-induced coma at Toronto hospital

Oilers forward Cave remains in medically-induced coma at Toronto hospital

Most Read