After years of hearing the pleas for help from those who treat people with opioid addictions, the Nova Scotia government is coming through with $800,000 it claims will end the wait for treatment.

The government estimates there are currently 221 people waiting for treatment. The money is expected to eliminate that wait-list and open up another 250 spots to handle the anticipated extra demand. Officials have been bracing for a surge in opioid use similar to what western provinces have seen in recent years.

"Having greater capacity for people who are seeking treatment for their opioid use disorder is a critical component of ultimately keeping people safe, keeping people alive," said Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health.

More resources will save lives

The money will go primarily to creating more treatment spaces at existing facilities, including Direction 180, a non-profit clinic on Gottingen Street. 

Cindy MacIsaac, Direction 180 director, told reporters having more resources on the front line of the addictions fight will save lives.

Cindy MacIsaac - Direction 180

Cindy MacIsaac is the director of Direction 180, a community-based methadone clinic located in Halifax's north end. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The extra funding for her organization will allow it to hire two more case managers.

"We had two case managers with about 460 to 500 clients," she said. "So now we'll have four case managers which will be really helpful.

"I've always said we do the best we can with what we've got. Now we'll be able to do a good job."

New treatment programs coming

Family physician Sam Hickcox treats patients addicted to painkillers and other opioids. He agreed clearing up the backlog would be life-saving.

"On a daily basis, you have to turn people away. You have to put people on a wait-list and what you're doing at that point is saying, 'Look, you know, do your best to try to minimize your risk of dying,'" he said.

Dr. Sam Hickcox

Family physician Dr. Sam Hickcox says clearing up the backlog for opioid treatment could be life-saving. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The province is also promising new treatment programs in Antigonish, New Glasgow and a yet-to-be-determined community on the South Shore. In Antigonish, the programs will be housed in outpatient space in the mental health and addictions clinic at St. Martha's Regional Hospital. 

Some of the funds will be directed at training medical staff and trying to convince more family doctors to take on patients with opioid addictions. Eighty have been trained to prescribe methadone but only 60 are actually doing it. There are currently 963 family physicians in Nova Scotia.