British Columbia

B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons lifts 'outdated' restriction on Suboxone to help overdose crisis

The B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons has removed a major barrier to prescribing Suboxone, a change health researchers called for to curb escalating overdose deaths.

Change is expected to expand access to drug that cut overdose deaths by 80% in France

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

The B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons has removed a major barrier to prescribing Suboxone, a drug health researchers have said urgently needs to be more available to reduce escalating overdose deaths.

Suboxone itself doesn't stop an overdose, but is used to treat opioid addiction by stopping cravings and preventing withdrawal symptoms.

A major drug report last month called on the college to remove "outdated" restrictions on the pill, which is considered safer than methadone and has been credited with an 80 per cent reduction in fatal opioid overdoses in France.

"I think it will help many, many more people than are currently accessing methadone," said B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake.

A collage of recent fentanyl overdose victims in B.C. (CBC)

More changes coming, says college

The change, which came into effect July 1, means all B.C. doctors can prescribe Suboxone, and will no longer be required to hold an exemption to prescribe methadone.

"I think a physician who has limited knowledge of addiction but isn't really experienced would feel more confident prescribing Suboxone than methadone which is more complicated," said Dr. Ailve McNestry, deputy registrar for the college.

Access to the drug in rural areas is now expected to increase as a result, something researchers with the Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse have said was strongly supported by evidence.

The new rules will also mean the college will no longer maintain a central registry of patients in the methadone program, reducing the paperwork requirement on doctors.

But other restrictions to Suboxone still exist, despite recommendations from doctors to change them months ago.

More changes to the guidelines are expected in coming months, the college wrote in a statement.

B.C. had 474 drug-related deaths last year, up 30 per cent over the previous year, prompting health officials to declare a public health emergency.

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story stated that Suboxone contains naloxone, which is used to counter the effects of opioid narcotics during an overdose. While true, these statements may mislead readers to believe Suboxone is used to treat overdoses. In fact, the naloxone is inactive when Suboxone is taken orally, as prescribed, and is included to deter misuse by injection, according to the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons. Suboxone cannot be used to treat an overdose from opioids.
    Jul 06, 2016 5:13 PM PT

With files from Natalie Clancy and Richard Zussman

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