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A Canadian first: B.C. registered nurses to begin prescribing drugs to treat opioid use

Thirty RNs and registered psychiatric nurses will complete their training this month to prescribe buprenorphine/naloxone (commonly known as Suboxone). Global News

In a Canadian first, registered nurses in B.C. will soon be prescribing medications for the treatment of opioid addiction.

The first cohort of 30 RNs and registered psychiatric nurses will complete their training this month to prescribe buprenorphine/naloxone, commonly known as Suboxone, the province said in a release Monday.

The move is part of B.C.’s overdose response plan and is the first step to expand the program to RNs and RPNs, which will help support people in rural and remote areas especially, the province said.

Previously, only physicians and nurse practitioners had the ability to prescribe alternatives to street drugs.

It has been almost five years since B.C. declared the overdose crisis a public health emergency. Since then, more than 6,000 people have died due to toxic street-drug use.

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“The COVID-19 pandemic has put people who use drugs at much higher risk for overdose. This crisis isn’t unique to our province — it’s a national issue — but B.C. is breaking ground when it comes to our response,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said.

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RNs and RPNs now be able to join family physicians, psychiatrists and nurse practitioners who are already prescribing medications to treat opioid addiction, the province said, adding training will continue with additional cohorts and other medications, such as slow-release oral morphine and methadone.

Currently, more than 23,000 people in B.C. are receiving some form of drug to treat opioid use, which is the most ever, according to the government.

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“Nurse prescribing is a shared milestone for nurses, communities and people who use drugs,” Kate Hodgson, an RN with the First Nations Health Authority’s substance use team, said.

“This B.C. initiative will directly improve access to life-saving medication and will create much-needed opportunities for nurses to support access to the full spectrum of substance use care for Indigenous rural and remote communities.”

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