Ottawa professionals on the front line of fighting the opioid crisis are welcoming the Ontario health minister’s pledge of $222 million to fight addiction and overdosing.
The urgency was underscored Tuesday when Ontario’s chief coroner announced there were 865 opioid deaths in the province last year, an increase of 19 per cent from the previous year.
The risk of deadly outcomes and the speed deadly opioids, such as fentanyl and carfentanil, have spread is forcing addiction services centres to adapt.
“The game changer is that we don’t have as much time and the risks are higher and the outcomes are more severe,” said Marion Wright, executive director of Rideauwood Addiction and Family Services.
Rideauwood opened a rapid access opioid treatment program earlier this month, and Wright said it has had more than 15 clients already — a combination of parents and youths between the ages of 12 and 25.
The program provides assessments and gets people into appropriate treatment within 24 hours, five days a week. It normally takes two to three weeks to get an assessment and months to place someone in an appropriate program.
“When, in fact, somebody needs treatment, they don’t want to go on a waiting list,” Wright said. “And if you’re the parent of a youth who is experiencing substantive opioid or addiction issues using opioids, the last thing you want to do is be told you have to be on a wait list.”
Expanding rapid response
Wright said she’s heartened by the province’s emphasis on rapid treatment, young people and the $70 million being directed toward long-term support for people with addiction disorders.
She hopes the funding will help expand the program at Rideauwood and similar programs at other organizations, she said.
The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre may also be able to expand its Rapid Access Addiction Medicine Clinic, which provides treatment for people suffering from opioid withdrawal.
“We’re hopeful that it will help us address the crisis more effectively,” said Luc Cormier, head of the nursing team for the supervised injection site at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre.
The province will also increase the distribution of naloxone, the antidote which reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, Cormier said.
Ontario’s health minister also said the province is spending $15 million to improve the prescription of opioids and train health care providers to manage pain in a way that could stem addiction to the powerful painkillers.
But Dr. Peter MacDougall, director of pain medicine for the Ottawa Hospital, said that along with funding for training, there will also need to be ongoing support as medical professionals change their practices and encounter issues with people already using those drugs.
“We have to think about what we do to manage all those patients who are out there now on these large doses of opioids, or other medications, who may or may not have developed an addiction to them,” he said.
“We need to think about supporting those primary care providers, physicians, nurse practitioners and pharmacists, who are going to be working to reduce the burden of opioids in the community and then to treat those people.”
There also needs to be support for the medical needs of people with addiction and also examining non-medicinal pain treatments, such as physiotherapy and psychiatric support, he said.