Some Nova Scotians recovering from narcotics addictions now have another treatment option paid for by the province.

After a review into the opiate replacement drug Suboxone, the province has expanded its coverage of the pill to include addicts between the ages of 18 and 24, if a physician prescribes it as a preferable alternative to methadone, which is taken in liquid form. 

Judy McPhee, executive director of pharmaceutical services for the province, said that age group was one that clinicians wanted "more access to Suboxone and that Suboxone may ... be a better alternative to methadone."

She said "methadone is still the gold standard for most patients." 

Until July 23, when the new criteria was released to pharmacists, the province would pay for Suboxone only if methadone would conflict with a patient's health conditions or other drug prescriptions. 

Michele Forsythe, a pharmacy manager at Valley Drug Mart stores in Middleton, Kingston and Middle Sackville, said the expansion of coverage will be a welcome alternative for many of her clients "who have been anxiously waiting ... or trying desperately to get on Suboxone."

Expanding the toolkit

"Any alternative option we have to methadone to provide treatment to these patients who need it the most can't be seen as a bad thing," said Forsythe. 

For the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia, it's good news according to Dr. Gus Grant, the college's CEO. 

"Adding Suboxone or buprenorphine to the toolkit can only help physicians that are trying to help patients with addiction," he said.

For Forsythe, the new expansion is just part of what the province could be doing to help curb addiction in the province. 

"I don't know that we're doing enough to get it under control," she said. 

She said she's hopeful the province will consider expanding its coverage to include all age groups. 

"Addiction doesn't only affect those people between the age of 15 and 24. I mean we have 50-year-olds, we have 80-year-olds ... It should be open across the board and maybe this is just the first step to getting there."

McPhee, with the Department of Health, said at this time, the province has no plans to consider paying for Suboxone for more patients. 

Methadone costs the province less than a dollar a day per patient, while Suboxone costs the province anywhere from $2.67 to $4.73 per day, depending on the patient's dose.