Skip to main content

Native Vancouver Pharmacy, a methadone-dispensing pharmacy in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, was ordered closed by the College of Pharmacists of B.C. in May for health and safety concerns on May 29.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The ongoing debate about recovery homes in B.C. is part of the broader, complex challenge of tackling mental-health and substance-abuse issues in the province, where an estimated one in five people deal with such problems each year.

One new strategy could involve a low-threshold or low-barrier methadone clinic – which gets its name because it would reduce or eliminate some hurdles patients currently face obtaining the drug as a substitute for heroin.

A low-threshold methadone clinic is among more than 20 initiatives outlined in a February paper from the Downtown Eastside Second Generation Health System Strategy. This evolving plan by Vancouver Coastal Health would streamline health services in the neighbourhood, which has about 18,000 residents and more than 20 VCH-affiliated agencies and clinics in a six-block radius.

Story continues below advertisement

In a low-barrier approach, methadone clients would be expected to cut back their use of heroin but not necessarily eliminate it – based on a rationale that fewer injections would help reduce the risk of blood-borne diseases, infections and other health concerns. In conventional methadone maintenance treatment, patients are expected to stop using heroin and stick to a set dosage of methadone.

The idea would be to give people who want methadone treatment what is now on offer for injection drug users at Insite – a one-stop shop where patients could get access to methadone as well as medical care and counselling.

"Essentially, what we would be trying to do is emulate the … process we have at Insite and to engage those clients into treatment," said Ron Joe, associate medical director of addiction services with Vancouver Coastal Health.

Methadone is one of the most effective medications to treat opioid addiction, and drug-use statistics suggest there are many more Canadians who could benefit from it beyond those already receiving it, Dr. Joe says.

According to the 2012 Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey, 0.5 per cent of Canadians and 0.8 per cent of British Columbians reported using heroin in their lifetime. (Those estimates were flagged with an "interpret with caution" note, as they were based on a small number of respondents).

But even if those estimates are too high, they still suggest thousands of people in B.C. and Canada need methadone treatment, he says.

"We have perhaps treated the easier half of the population and the harder half, the more difficult half are the ones who are still going to Insite or maybe not going to Insite – and we haven't cracked that nut of engaging those people into treatment," Dr. Joe said.

Story continues below advertisement

"So we need a specialized service to do that and that's where the low-barrier methadone site would come in."

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter