B.C. allows nurses to prescribe opioid substitutes, lowering barriers to treatment and clean alternative to street drugs

published on April 4, 2018 by Travis Lupick in The Georgia Straight

Nurse practitioners can now offer patients hydromorphone, an opioid similar to heroin that can help people addicted to drugs who failed with more traditional treatments

A large group of B.C. nurses can now prescribe a range of opioid substitutes that are used to treat addictions to drugs like heroin and fentanyl.

Today (April 4), the provincial government announced that nurse practitioners can write prescriptions for methadone and Suboxone, as well as for hydromorphone.

The move could widely expand access and lower barriers to medically assisted treatments for a dependence on opioids. It comes at a time when an addition to a drug like heroin has never been more dangerous.

Last year 1,436 people in B.C. died of a drug overdose. According to the province’s coroners service, approximately 83 percent of those deaths involved fentanyl, a dangerous synthetic opioid that has contaminated B.C. supplies of illicit street drugs.

By giving nurse practitioners the authority to prescribe alternatives—clean drugs distributed via Canada’s medical system—the provincial initiative announced today could save people from the greater risks that have come to characterize an addiction to opioids in recent years.

The inclusion of injectable hydromorphone is especially significant. The drug, a prescription painkiller that’s sold under the brand name Dilaudid, is comparable to prescription heroin. Studies conducted in Vancouver have found that for long-time addicts who have repeatedly failed with more traditional treatments such as methadone, hydromorphone can help stabilize their lives and improve health outcomes.

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