'You need to be brave': expert calls on government to fund prescription opioids

Eugenia Oviedo-Joekes says the way to save opiate addicts' lives is to give them clean drugs, like prescription hydromorphone.

Researcher says way to save lives is to give addicts clean drugs

A patient at the Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside prepares one of his three daily doses of prescribed hydromorphone. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Opioid researcher Eugenia Oviedo-Joekes is calling on the provincial government to fund substitution therapy to stop the overdose crisis.

Oviedo-Joekes has been working to help addicts for 15 years. Her message to politicians is to fund what she believes works.

"You need to be brave, and you need to just do it. This is the moment where you need to show that you're truly seeing what is going on," she said.

Oviedo-Joekes is the lead researcher for the Study to Assess Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness (SALOME) conducted at the Crosstown Clinic in Gastown, which showed chronic heroin addiction could be treated with another opiate — hydromorphone — in a controlled setting.

Oviedo-Joekes said the best way to help addicts is to fund that treatment.

The province recently received $10 million from the federal government to address the fentanyl crisis, and Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson called on the Liberals to use the funds to expand opioid substitution therapy.

"We have to get people onto safer prescription drugs or we're going to see more and more people die every day," he said.

Clinic at capacity

The clinic is currently at capacity with 150 patients. Oviedo-Joekes said it's heartbreaking to have to turn addicts away.

"I'm not sure if we can actually cope," she said. "It's very hard."

She says her clinic is ready to expand — all they need is the money.

"We have the evidence, we have the emergency, we have the patient population, we have the pharmacy that can provide hydromorphone right now," she said. "This is not going to solve the entire crisis but this is a very important piece of the puzzle."

With files from The Early Edition

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