Parent of drug-addicted teen pushes for easier access to Suboxone

An Ottawa father who raised concerns about teenage drug addiction and overdoses in Kanata is now pushing for easier access to Suboxone, a medication that helps addicts fight cravings and get through withdrawals.

Sean O'Leary says it's hard to find a doctor who will prescribe the medication

Suboxone is a form of opioid replacement therapy that helps block opiate withdrawal symptoms and heroin cravings. (Getty Images)

An Ottawa father who raised concerns about teenage drug addiction and overdoses in Kanata is now pushing for easier access to Suboxone, a medication that helps addicts fight cravings and get through withdrawals.

Sean O'Leary said Suboxone has enabled his 16-year-old daughter Paige fight her addiction to counterfeit Percocet.

"It's improved our family life immensely since she started taking it," said O'Leary.

Sean O'Leary said Suboxone is a big part of the reason his daughter Paige O'Leary is staying off illegal drugs. (CBC News)

In October the Ontario government made it possible for family physicians to prescribe Suboxone, following a similar move by British Columbia. 

The drug is considered safer than methadone, with fewer side effects and "significantly less" risk of causing a fatal overdose itself, according to information from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

O'Leary said that finding a doctor to prescribe Suboxone for his daughter, however, wasn't easy.

He wasn't even familiar of what it was.- Sean O'Leary

"I just asked my doctor. I said, 'Can you prescribe Suboxone?' And he said, 'What's that?'" O'Leary recalled.

"So that was enough of an answer right there. He wasn't even familiar of what it was."

Ottawa psychiatrist Elena Shurshilova called Suboxone a 'life-saving' treatment and said more doctors should learn how it works so that it can be prescribed to patients struggling with drug addiction. (CBC News)

More education needed

Despite the changes introduced by the Ontario government, Ottawa psychiatrist Elena Shurshilova said many doctors are still hesitant to prescribe Suboxone because they don't understand how the drug works to help treat opioid dependence.

"I absolutely believe that more physicians have to be exposed to Suboxone treatment," said Shurshilova, who treats O'Leary's daughter Paige.

She added that doctors have to be familiar with the policies surrounding Suboxone, calling it a "life-saving way of treatment."

The president of We The Parentsa not-for-profit group started by O'Leary to help young addicts, said a number of Ottawa families have been calling for easier access to the drug.

"We need more access to it, there's no doubt about it," said Steve Cody, who lost his son to a drug overdose in 2013. 

Steve Cody is president of We the Parents, a not-for-profit group dedicated to helping youth addicted to drugs. (CBC News)

While his son may not have benefited from Suboxone, Cody said it's still important to get information out about the drug and to try and help other families struggling with addiction.

The group is hoping that by speaking out, more doctors will consider prescribing it, he added.

"It's all about education, so that we can take these kids off of these drugs that are killing them, and kind of get them on a path to where they want to get into a cleaner state," Cody said.