British Columbia

B.C. pharmacy taking advantage of new rules to deliver safe drug supply directly to patients

A Victoria pharmacy is using new rules around who can deliver a safe supply of pharmaceutical alternatives to street drugs to offer a medication delivery service to clients struggling with addictions.

At-home delivery of medication by nurses is changing lives, patients say

Registered nurse Emily Tarasoff making her rounds dropping off medication at the former Travelodge in Victoria. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

A Victoria pharmacy is using new rules around who can deliver a safe supply of pharmaceutical alternatives to street drugs to offer a medication delivery service to clients struggling with addictions.

Working out of the Forbes Pharmacy Gorge location, Emily Tarasoff is one of several registered nurses providing daily in-person deliveries of opioid agonist treatment and medically prescribed controlled substances.

"We take out the medications. There are daily witnessed medications." said Tarasoff. "And another big part of my job is to do head-to-toe assessments through observation and talking with the client."

In the past, a service such as Forbes is now providing was not possible. That's because only pharmacists were allowed to dispense these kinds of medications but that changed with COVID-19.

Emily Tarasoff delivers medication to Victoria Ross as part of a new service being provided by the Forbes Pharmacy Gorge. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

In response to the pandemic, the B.C. College of Pharmacists loosened its rules, allowing non-pharmacists to deliver these types of medications.

"Where it is unique is the whole aspect of bringing the medications out to these folks who have never had that before," said Tarasoff.

Changing lives

Over the past five months, the number of clients using the service has exploded, from 15 at the start, to well over 200 deliveries a day.  People who use the service say it's been life changing.

"Its meant everything to me. This approach, the way they have this structured, is very much needed," said Victoria Ross.

Victoria Ross and Shelby O'Brien both receive their safe drug supply through the Forbes Pharmacy delivery service and say it has changed their lives. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Six months ago Ross and partner Shelby O'Brien were homeless and using street drugs heavily. Now, the pair has made a home for themselves in the former Travelodge and point to their daily medication deliveries as playing a pivotal role in stabilizing them.

"I'm dealing with things at 39 years of age that had something like this being available 15 years ago, I might not have been using," said Ross.

But the daily visits are more than just a medication drop off said Ross. Seeing a registered nurse like Tarasoff every day, she says, has provided consistency, accountability and greater access to mental health support.

"Everything is bundled into one and accessed together. I think that is what's so powerful for us." said Ross

Medication delivery the tip of the iceberg

That kind of impact is by design, explains Tahara Hosseini. She is a pharmacy assistant at Forbes's Gorge location and has been spearheading its new service. 

"This program is based on relationships with the patients, with the doctors, with the nurses,"  said Hosseini. "A lot of our clients were finding it difficult to make it into the pharmacy to get their medication. So now we're bringing it to them." 

Tahara Hosseini says she want's to expand the mobile health services currently being offered at the Forbes Pharmacy Gorge. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

And Hosseini is looking ahead to expanding their mobile health offering, saying medication delivery is just the tip of the iceberg. She envisions the pharmacy's nurses offering services like orthopedic care, hepatitis C shots and additional mental health support.

Last week, the provincial government issued a public health order authorizing registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses to prescribe pharmaceutical alternatives to street drugs. It's a change welcomed by Hosseini and the staff at Forbes, who say it will only enhance the services they're offering. 

But while some direct to client medical services are becoming easier, especially for clients with addictions, addicts like Victoria Ross fear it's all too good to be true.

The rule change that makes it legal for non-pharmacists to deliver medications is only a temporary measure.

"This program is so good for us and I have a very big fear that one day they're going to, you know, cut us off and say we can't help you anymore." said Ross.


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