Same-day access to medication to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings is now available for the first time across Alberta.
The Virtual Opioid Dependency Program (formerly the Rural Opioid Dependency Program) has been enhanced for quicker access to medication. It will help fill gaps in service and is accessible to all Albertans.
Program director Dr. Nathaniel Day said the rural program, which was developed to expand opioid treatment access via video conferencing between a client and counsellor, could take time to set up.
“What we found is that for some people, they actually need the help today. Waiting until tomorrow or waiting until next week, actually sets them up for return to use and trouble,” said Day, who is based out of Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury in Ponoka.
Now, people just have to call 1-844-383-7688 to speak to program staff to get medication the same day from their local drug store, he said.
“That’s a super exciting opportunity and I think it has the potential to be a game-changer for people once they realize the service is that accessible.”
He said the program has just started rolling out across the province and there’s already clients in every zone.
It’s now available to people transitioning from one program to another, such as from detox to treatment, including those released from incarceration.
“They can get care from us before their next dose is due, so there is no gap. Then we’ll work with them to transition on to whatever care provider makes sense.”
He said those dealing with complex addiction may need to be a client at an opioid dependency treatment clinic. Others may continue with video conferencing.
Sometimes, people are concerned about the stigma of going to a clinic. But now they can get medication with a phone call and access video conferencing through Telehealth at health care facilities that cater to multiple types of patients.
Work is also underway to expand the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program from five to seven days a week.
When the Rural Opioid Dependency Program first started in April 2017, it was only for residents in Rocky Mountain House, Stettler, Ponoka and Wetaskiwin, before Sylvan Lake, Olds, Drayton Valley, Camrose and Wainwright were added a few months later.
Last summer, it expanded to include Red Deer and area to combat the opioid crisis.
Day said in 2018, basically two people every day were dying in Alberta.
“It appears from the most current data, that some of the things we’ve been working on are starting to work, in that the growth has started to slow. There’s still two people every day, and that’s two people too many.”
He said Ontario and British Columbia, which both use Telehealth to some extent, are now looking at what Alberta is doing.
“We’re probably the only jurisdiction in Canada, and possibly the world, that’s using Telehealth to this degree, where we’re able to provide care to people in basically any community in our province.
“This is really innovative and it’s changing the dialogue around how we should be approaching this problem.”