Ground-breaking work helping those at risk

October 26, 2021

Addictions medicine lead Dr. Leslie Lappalainen, one of a group of health professionals that have put together the prescribing service.

It’s being called ground-breaking work that’s keeping people safer from harm.

A small and mighty team of Interior Health physicians and nurse practitioners are supporting some of the region’s most vulnerable people during the COVID-19 pandemic. An initiative led by the Mental Health and Substance Use Network brought together the group of health-care professionals who are providing coverage seven days a week to ensure people with substance use disorders have access to prescribed safer supply while isolating due to a positive COVID-19 test.

Dr. Megan Hill

Dr. Megan Hill, a family doctor and addictions specialist who has been key in the prescribing initiative.

It’s important work to stave off risk of dangerous withdrawal from alcohol, opioids, or other drugs, particularly in light of the ongoing toxic drug supply crisis.

“It is clear by the increasing death rates across the province that the drug supply has become even more toxic,” says Corinne Dolman, Interior Health’s Manager of Substance Use Services. “This service is imperative not only to ensure people are able to isolate and reduce the transmission of COVID-19 but also to prevent high-risk withdrawal from substances.”

Early indications show individuals being supported through the prescribing service are being linked in with other services and supports, and many are continuing on Opioid Agonist Treatment (OAT) medications, such as methadone and Suboxone.

“What I have seen repeatedly in working to manage COVID outbreaks in the Okanagan in people who use drugs over the past year is how much a prescription of safe supply combined with evidence-based treatment like OAT will not only keep the individual and the public safe through promoting successful isolation, but also engage the person in follow-up treatment for their substance use disorder after they leave,” says Dr. Megan Hill, an addictions specialist and one of the physicians leading this work.

“This contact with health services is often a golden opportunity to connect with people for ongoing care.” Dr. Megan Hil

The program has already helped people in Vernon, Penticton, Trail, Kamloops and other parts of the region who may be at increased risk of overdose, withdrawal, cravings and other harms related to substance use.

“This vulnerable population has suffered increased isolation and stigma throughout the pandemic,” says Pam Ruby, Interior Health’s Regional Pandemic Health Coordinator. “The hard work and efforts to provide prescribed safer supply and other treatment medications has truly made all the difference. We have been able to reach this at-risk group and create connections for ongoing support that many did not have before.”

“This is an innovative strategy that allows the vulnerable population to isolate with the added benefit of connecting them to addictions and harm reduction services across the entire region. This reduces barriers to care allowing the vulnerable population access to this much needed service,” says Brent Hobbs, Network Director for Patient Transportation and Pandemic Isolation Centres. “This is a ground-breaking innovation.”

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