Mobile Medical Unit brings hope, relief to B.C. overdose victims

published on January 2, 2017 by Andrea Woo in The Globe and Mail

The woman sits slouched in a black folding chair, slowly regaining her strength. She is recovering from her second overdose since being released from jail just four days earlier and physicians are watching her closely. She is crying.

It was easier to get street drugs than it was to get help, she told addictions physician Keith Ahamad.

“We restarted her on Suboxone and she was so happy,” Dr. Ahamad recalled. “It was all she wanted. She said, ‘It makes me feel normal and I don’t use [illicit drugs when I’m on it]. I need to be on it. I can’t find it anywhere. Why is it so hard to get?'”

As part of the local overdose response, the MMU is offering the treatment options to anyone who needs it, free of charge.

A whiteboard outside the MMU advertises its services: medical treatment for active overdoses, same-day provision of Suboxone and methadone and free take-home naloxone kits for drug users. Seeing the sign, a visibly agitated man enters the facility and tells physicians he is on the brink of relapsing. He had been on Suboxone back in Ontario, but he could not afford it in British Columbia, he says.

Dr. Ahamad started the man on Suboxone on the spot, which appeared to surprise him. Before leaving, he turns around and addresses staff in the room: “Thank you so much. You guys are awesome.”

Perhaps most notable is the mood inside the MMU. It was established to address an exceptionally grim reality – an unprecedented surge in overdoses – and yet the vibe inside is relatively light. Smiling physicians and nurses chat freely with patients, their friendly demeanours bringing some levity to the situation: “How are you doing, sweetheart? Are you hungry? Can I get you a sandwich?”

Physicians and nurses at the MMU have all signed up to be there.

Emergency-room physician Frank Scheuermeyer said it is important for patients to know that they are cared for.

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