Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. to provide safer alternative to methadone for treatment of opioid addiction

The Newfoundland and Labrador government will begin providing an alternative to methadone for those undergoing treatment for opioid addiction.

Suboxone safer and less prone to overdose, says Health Minister John Haggie

Health Minister John Haggie says it's important to 'tackle the opioid abuse problem on every front.' (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

As part of its latest initiative to address opioid addiction in Newfoundland and Labrador, the provincial government will begin providing an alternative to methadone for those undergoing addictions treatment.

Minister of Health and Community Services John Haggie announced Tuesday that the province will provide Suboxone, which it considers a safer alternative to methadone.

To truly tackle the drug problem in this province, it requires an all-hands-on-deck approach.- Steve Kent

"We have to tackle the opioid abuse problem on every front — from prescribing in the physician's office, to dispensing at the pharmacy, to helping those in our communities with addiction," Haggie said.

"Removing barriers to Suboxone will help ensure it can be prescribed as an alternative treatment drug for those in addiction recovery."

The health minister announced Tuesday the province will provide suboxone for those undergoing addictions treatment. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

The province said Suboxone is less prone to cause an overdose because of its chemical composition, and can be taken in a tablet form, instead of as a liquid like methadone.

We're trying to be proactive and reactive.- John Haggie

Haggie said Suboxone is a mix of both a synthetic opioid and the antidote naloxone, and works very quickly and more safely than methodone. 

"It deals with the physical and psychological aspects of dependency and addiction so you can wean people off opioids," he said.

Haggie said much of the problem with opioid addiction in the province is connected to prescription opioids, not a problem with fentanyl as of yet.

"The issue around regulation and legislation is aimed to reduce the supply of prescription opioids, and we know that that accelerates, in some areas, the arrival of fentanyl and it's analogs," said Haggie.

"We're trying to be proactive and reactive."

Regulations not as strict

The new treatment will no longer require special authorization under the Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program, making it more easily and quickly accessible to those in need.

Haggie said Suboxone treatment can begin before opioids have completely cleared a person's system and can be prescribed by all physicians, not just those with the special licence to prescribe methadone.

"Anyone with a licence to prescribe in this province can then prescribe Suboxone, so there are 1,200 physicians now, potentially, rather than simply 14," he said.

The introduction of Suboxone treatment comes after the distribution of 1,200 take-home naloxone kits for those at risk of opioid overdose as part of the Newfoundland and Labrador Opioid Action Plan.

'A hell of a lot more work to do'

Progressive Conservative MHA Steve Kent said the announcement was a positive one, but was long overdue, as it was something he asked staff to pursue while he was Health minister.

"This is a best practice across Canada, it makes good sense that we're pursuing it here in Newfoundland and Labrador," he said.

MHA Steve Kent says addressing addiction issues in Newfoundland and Labrador requires 'an all-hands-on-deck approach.' (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

"I'm a little disappointed it's taken this long to get here, but I also know how long it takes to make changes to the system."

Kent said the new treatment is a safer alternative, but it could be a challenge getting physicians on board to prescribe it.

"There's been lots of resistance and lots of obstacles when it comes to methadone in this province," he said.

"Suboxone is going to be much more readily available, but we need physicians to be willing to work with patients to prescribe it, and I'm hopeful that that will happen."

Kent added there is often a connection between addiction and mental health and advocated for more resources to be committed to mental health care.

"To truly tackle the drug problem in this province, it requires an all-hands-on-deck approach," said Kent.

"I'm encouraged by what's in the action plan in terms of opioids, those are initiatives that I supported and was involved with, it makes good sense, but there's a hell of a lot more work to do."