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Opioid substitutes falling short: top doc

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

Methadone samples handed out to users. (REUTERS)

Methadone samples handed out to users. (REUTERS)

The province’s top doctor says that with 40,000 estimated opiate drug abusers in B.C., the provincial opioid substitution program may only be meeting a third of the potential need.

To date, B.C.’s opioid substitution program has 15,754 patients, according to chief medical health officer Dr. Perry Kendall’s report on the topic last week.

“Currently, some of the best estimates is that there may be 40,000 people using illicit opioid drugs in B.C., whether it’s heroin or other opiates,” Kendall said.

“At 15,000, we’re somewhere between — we may be meeting just over a third of the potential need.”

The data shows the program has been successful. Mortality rates for those on opiate substitution are about half of those using street heroin.

And there’s the societal cost of addiction, which can be up to $45,000 a year for a single opiate addict — while the cost of treatment for the average patient over one year is $3,268.

But while Kendall acknowledged “the end of any addictions program is to try to wean people off of addiction,” he said there has yet to be any outcome reports on whether any patients are successful in doing so.

He said, anecdotally, some try to quit — their success can depend on a number of personal factors. Others, he said, will remain on opiate substitution for “many years” while maintaining a productive lifestyle.

Meanwhile, the number of patients increases every year — the data shows patient numbers are up 66% since 2007-2008 — as does the cost, which exceeded $51 million to administer the program last year.


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