Nova Scotia

Halifax methadone clinic seeks new home as client list grows

Thanks to a boost in provincial funding, Direction 180 has reduced its wait-list, but now it's crowded and needs a new home.

Thanks to boost in provincial funding, Direction 180 has virtually eliminated wait-list

The Christmas dinner for Direction 180 and Mainline clients was held at the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre on Dec. 21. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

At the annual Christmas dinner hosted by two Halifax community groups that help people with opiate addiction, attendees were celebrating more than just the holiday season this year.

Direction 180 and Mainline were also celebrating the news they've been awaiting for years.

This year saw the introduction of Nova Scotia's opioid strategy to stem the deaths from opiate overdoses. A key plank was $800,000 announced in November to expand methadone treatment, with the goal of eliminating the wait-list within six months.

At Direction 180, the change from the funding boost has been swift. Three new staff have been added, helping to bring down the wait-list for people to start methadone to tame their addiction to opioids such as hydromorphone or fentanyl. 

Before the new money, there were as many as 60 people waiting. That number is now down to 12, and it won't be long before they begin treatment because the clinic has already been in touch with them.

"We're pleased about the current state of the wait-list and our ability to respond," said Cindy MacIsaac, the executive director of Direction 180. "It's just a matter of trying to organize appointments and get people in," she said. 

Across the province, there are 224 Nova Scotians on wait-lists to start treatment. It's a far cry from 2013, when Direction 180 alone had a wait-list with more than 300 names. 

Nova Scotia has not seen the dramatic number of deaths seen in provinces like B.C., where fatal overdoses have exceeded 1,100

As of the end of November, there were 45 confirmed and 10 probable opioid toxicity deaths in Nova Scotia, according to the Health Department. In 2016, there were 53 deaths. 

71 overdose reversals

It's believed the death toll would be higher if it weren't for the expanded availability of naloxone, a drug that reverses the effect of an opioid overdose. 

The Health Department said since January 2016, 2,000 kits have been handed out. This fall, pharmacies across the province started distributing the drug for free. Paramedics, jail guards and university staff are also trained to administer it.

The department said there have been 66 reversals reported through community organizations, and another five by RCMP so far this year.

Direction 180 partnered with the Ally Centre of Cape Breton to pave the way for naloxone's introduction with a pilot project that began three years ago.

"Naloxone's a Band-Aid, however, thank heavens it's there," said MacIsaac.

New home needed

With the expansion of methadone treatment and the increase in clients, Direction 180 is now searching for a new home. It's bursting out of its cramped, outdated space next to the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre on Gottingen Street.

MacIsaac said the organization would prefer to stay in the north end, where many of the clients access other services.

But finding a location that is affordable and willing to accept a methadone clinic as a tenant is proving to be a challenge. She said she's received three rejections so far. It's an echo of the backlash the clinic received five years ago when it announced plans to open a new location in Fairview.

"I've been around long enough to know that you can't please everyone," said MacIsaac.

However, she said she believes attitudes are slowly changing about addiction.

"I think more people are realizing how detrimental opiate addiction is, and I think there's more compassion and understanding that people don't just choose to put opiates in their system," said MacIsaac.

She's hopeful the clinic will be able to move into bigger digs in the spring of 2018.

About the Author

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter in Nova Scotia and hosts Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7, 7:30 in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at elizabeth.chiu@cbc.ca.