Doctors in Nova Scotia are being encouraged to take on patients who are addicted to opiates because there aren't enough physicians to meet the demand for methadone treatment.
"Because the problem is a large problem — there's many people with opiate addiction — we need more physicians that are willing to engage in this therapy," said Dr. John Fraser, who has been prescribing methadone treatments for nearly 20 years.
"Physicians tend not to get a lot of education around addiction and opiate addiction."
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia recently published a list of guidelines to educate doctors about using methadone appropriately, in the hopes of easing the backlog of patients who require it.
Methadone is taken orally, usually mixed with juice. It works by blocking opioid receptors in the brain to take away cravings and prevent withdrawal symptoms.
Dr. Gus Grant, the registrar and CEO of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia, said people who suffer from addictions are often marginalized.
"The family physician's waiting room in which there is a mother with a newborn awaiting their vaccinations sitting next to a heroin addict, wrestling with the early symptoms of withdrawal — that's a tough image to reconcile for many physicians and members of the public," he told CBC News.
"There is a stigma to this disease, but it's a disease just like every other disease."
Grant said there are fewer than 50 doctors in Nova Scotia who are currently allowed to administer methadone because they've received an exemption from Health Canada allowing them to do so.
"I don't think it's anywhere near sufficient," he said Tuesday.
Fraser said while the work is challenging and time consuming, it's also rewarding.
"Methadone itself is a complicated medication," he said.
"People do very well, or can do very well, and make dramatic changes in their lives."