British Columbia's fledgling network for research into drug abuse has released new provincial guidelines for doctors and nurses on how to treat people addicted to opioids.
The new protocols, established by the B.C. Centre for Substance Use, will replace existing guidelines from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C.
The centre on substance use, which was launched last fall at the height of the opioid crisis, is involved in a wide range of activities around addiction and harm reduction.
The centre's inaugural director, Dr. Evan Wood, and Health Minister Terry Lake revealed the new guidelines at a news conference Tuesday.
They also announced $5 million in immediate funding from the province for the research network, along with $1.9 million per year in additional ongoing support and a $1 million donation by private donor Peter Bull through the St. Paul's Foundation.
Goal to 'save lives,' says doctor
Lake said the new guidelines will change the way doctors and nurse practitioners deal with addicts.
Among the changes: the guidelines discourage solitary withdrawal treatment and recommend buprenorphine and naloxone as first-line medications.
"It's a stepped approach to opioid addiction treatment and confirms what we've heard from other addictions experts: that buprenorphine with naloxone — most commonly known as suboxone — is the treatment option to try first for most patients."
Experts say a fraction of doctors in B.C. are prescribing the drug.
Dr. Evan Wood, the centre's inaugural director, told reporters the the new guidelines are a shift toward evidence- based treatment.
"We need to look at treatment options that will get people away from desperate circumstances where they're using toxic street drugs," Wood said.
The guidelines will take take effect in June 2017.
With files from Farrah Merali