The chief medical health officer at Vancouver Coastal Health is applauding a pledge from Ottawa to make access to prescription heroin and methadone easier.
Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said Monday that the Liberal government would allow for the prescription of heroin outside of a hospital setting, along with legal changes to make methadone more accessible.
Currently, Vancouver is home to a single pilot project offering prescription heroin at the Crosstown Clinic in the Downtown Eastside (DTES).
But with a growing recognition that the opioid overdose crisis is as present in suburban communities as it is in highly visible places like the Whalley Strip and the DTES, Dr. Patricia Daly says the new rules could save lives.
But she acknowledged the changes might not be easy for everyone working in health care.
“I know that in Vancouver we’ve reached out to physicians who are prescribing methadone and suboxone across our health authority, we’ve encouraged them to support our colleagues who may not feel as comfortable offering this treatment, we’re prepared to offer support,” Daly said.
WATCH: Free heroin for drug users
However, she added that she has been heartened to see how many healthcare practitioners have stepped up to learn the required skills to address the crisis.
“I know for the BC Centre on Substance Use, with their training program, they’ve been widely subscribed. So doctors are heeding the call, they know that patients are dying, they want to learn how to better provide care for these patients.”
The 2018 federal budget put aside $231 million to improve access to drug treatment, address stigma and gather data on the opioid crisis.
Health Canada estimates about 2,900 people died in 2016 as a result of the crisis, and estimates slated to be released Tuesday suggest the epidemic claimed more than 4,000 lives last year.
In B.C. alone, more than 1,400 people died of suspected drug overdoses last year.
— With files from the Canadian Press