Pharmacy tackles opioid addictions, mental illness and health issues among city's homeless

Pharmacist Richard Rego has seen addicts spew abuse, break down in tears and nearly succumb to overdose. But he's hoping his straight-talk approach and easier access to treatments will help the city's most vulnerable overcome opioid addictions.

Rich Rego attributes his team's rapport with street addicts for their recovery

Pharmacist Richard Rego says he's been the de facto pharmacist for clients at the Mustard Seed for 10 years at his current location in the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre. He's opening up a pharmacy in the agency's new wellness centre. (CBC)

Richard Rego says he's seen the grips of opioid addiction first hand.

Last Halloween, one of his regular methadone customers ran in asking for help after someone overdosed on fentanyl outside of the pharmacy.

Rego says that when he arrived, the man's face was turning purple. He injected naloxone and saved the man's life.

But to Rego's surprise, the man was not thankful.

"He woke up and called me a bad name and said I'd just ruined his high," said Rego, director of Beacon Pharmacy.

Rego says the man died the next day of a fatal overdose

As a pharmacist at the Sheldon M. Chumir Centere's Beacon Pharmacy, Rich Rego has spent a decade dispensing methadone and other treatments to clients with addictions. (CBC)

Rego and his team fill prescriptions for methadone and other drugs meant to help people get off of opioids or other highly addictive substances, as part of their regular duties.

He says he's been the de facto pharmacist for clients at the Mustard Seed for 10 years at his current location in the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre.

So he says it made sense to open up another pharmacy closer to the Mustard Seed, to meet the need head on, when space became available in the agency's new wellness centre.

"People might be inclined to say, this is right downstairs from me, like this is right where I live, or I hang out, so we might be able to reach people by being on site," said Rego.

The wellness centre's clinical director, Boris Lesar, admits his clients are at risk of harm right now because of the ongoing opioid crisis.

"When you have a big building like this and you have so many residents and when you have so many people congregating around here, there's a potential that could be a problem," said Lesar. "We want to do something to prevent that happening in this part of town, at least."

The wellness centre's clinical director, Boris Lesar, says his clients are at risk of harm because of the ongoing opioid crisis. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Lesar hopes having an in-house pharmacy will also reduce the potential trade in legal drugs.

" A lot of our clients get jumped on the streets and they get robbed and medication gets taken away from them. So if they don't have to walk that 10 blocks, that five blocks, to the pharmacy, that reduces the risks of those drugs being on the streets again," said Lesar.

Chelsea Burnham is an outreach worker and recovering heroin addict. (CBC)

Outreach worker and recovering heroin addict Chelsea Burnham says that when she started taking methadone, there were only two methadone clinics available in the city, and there were only certain pharmacies that would dispense it.

"So I would either have to be go all day without my methadone and try to get there before it closed, or be late for work," said Burnham

She says making treatments more accessible may help reduce the amount of illegal street drugs that addicts will use.

"Cause when you are sick (from withdrawl), you will do anything to not to be sick," said Burnham.

The Mustard Seed in the city's Beltline has opened a wellness centre to address its clients health needs. (CBC)

Rego hopes that by being closer to those at risk of succumbing to an opioid overdose, he'll be able to reach out to them before it happens, with his friendly but no-nonsense approach.

"We really challenge these folks to get better... The straight talk really works, and sometimes the tough talk works even better, " said Rego.

The pharmacy is expected to open in September.