On-demand addiction treatment clinic opens in the Downtown Eastside to tackle overdose crisis

published on February 27, 2017 by Jonathon Brown in Roundhouse Radio 98.3 Vancouver

A new clinic opening this week in the Downtown Eastside aims to reduce barriers for people looking to take their first step toward recovery.

The DTES Connections Clinic will offer opioid replacement therapy, such as methadone and suboxone.

At today’s opening ceremony, peer advisor Rob Morgan spoke about his time using in Prince George in the days before naloxone kits, needle exchanges, and therapy.

“I was doing heroin and cocaine in the early 90’s and China White hit the streets of the Downtown Eastside. China White was just like fentanyl, it was killing people. I had to watch my dear friend Roma get carried out in a body bag,” he remembers. “That craving was so intense, I wanted to cut my arm off, I didn’t want to give in to that craving.”

BC Health Minister Terry Lake says the centre provides evidence-based treatment that is also culturally appropriate and compassionate.

“People think that it’s a moral choice, just a matter of willpower, we know that’s not the case,” he says. “It’s a complex, chronic, medical condition that’s relapsing in many cases. We know that we need to approach this issue in a different way, it’s not like fixing a broken leg.”

Experts have been suggesting prescription heroin or hydromorphone be added to their supply, though Lake isn’t sure they are appropriate at this facility, but he says he wouldn’t rule it out.

“At the Crosstown Clinic, hydromorphone is used. We rely on experts to guide policy, but I’ve asked Vancouver Coastal to look at opportunities for expansion of all treatments,” Lake says. “I don’t think we should be boxed-in by any particular policy, but we need to be led by the evidence and make sure what we are doing is building upon the past.”

Lake admits this treatment is still controversial. “I stood with the former federal minister who banned it, I said that was a bad decision and that this was medicine in the same way that insulin is medicine,” he says. “We can’t be ideological about our approaches to healthcare.”

University of British Columbia Professor Dr. Evan Wood adds that there isn’t enough room at the clinic to make it work. “With injectable hydromorphone, it does require an injecting room, which we don’t have here,” he explains. “Oral hydromorphone is so short-acting, you need to take it a number of times per-day, it hasn’t really been studied, no model there, but slow-release oral morphine would be something that we would be making available and researching here.”

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