Windsor doctors push for faster opioid addictions care

Addictions specialists in Windsor are pushing to get a new program to the city, that would help drug users get help faster, and lessen the burden on hospital emergency rooms.

Rapid Addictions Access Clinic could come to the city in the next year

A new social media campaign this summer aims to remove the criminal stigma around opioids and educate the public on medical issues. (Graeme Roy/Canadian Press)

Doctors are pushing to get a special kind of program in Windsor, that would make it faster and easier for people suffering from addictions to get help. 

"It's lowered the death rate," said Dr. Robert McKay, an addictions specialist and president of the Erie St Clair Clinic in Windsor.

McKay is hoping to bring a rapid access addictions medicine (RAAM) clinic to Windsor. Patients would be able to receive a medical assisted therapy for their addiction, and then be referred to other healthcare professionals to begin recovery treatment immediately, said McKay.

Sarnia is one of seven cities piloting a RAAM clinic.

"Emergency rooms are not set up for addictions," said Dr. Del Donald, of Bluewater Methadone Clinic in Sarnia. "Once the patient is at a place that is set up for addictions, there's a different acceptance there."

Donald lead the RAAM project in Sarnia. He said patients who use the program were visiting the emergency room much less often. 

"The reason why there was such a drop is because emergency rooms, and emergency room doctors, become the default department for people with addictions because there's nowhere else for them to go," said Donald. 

Medically assisted therapy

According to both Donald and McKay, a RAAM clinic in Windsor would also be a helpful resource to supplement some of the abstinence-based programs in the city. They believe that abstinence-based treatments are ineffective and can be dangerous when it comes to treating opioid addicts. 

"I am against going abstinence-based and going to therapy and being released. I don't think it works very well," said McKay. "You're setting them up for failure and the failure could be extreme. It could be death. Not just a relapse." 

Opioid addicts have it especially tough because of the intense withdrawals they go through, explained McKay, and in abstinence-based treatments they lose their tolerance fast. So if an addict has a relapse and reuses, they could take too much of the drug which could kill them. 

Dr. Robert McKay is an addictions specialist who is pushing for a Rapid Addictions Access Medicine clinic for the Windsor area. (Melissa Nahkavoly/CBC)

"If you put them on a long acting medication, the desire to try to get off of it is done slowly, gradually," said McKay. "And more likely will be successful because it will minimize withdrawal."

Drug treatment options, though successful, are often stigmatized said Donald. 

"There's abstinence-based treatment, and evidence-based treatment," he said. "Addiction physicians are evidence-based for the most part, and other groups are against it. But that really amounts to an ideology."

But both physicians hope that a RAAM clinic in Windsor would help patients to feel more comfortable, by having a place they can go to learn more about their treatment options and receive that care.

McKay and Donald hope to have a RAAM clinic set up in Windsor sometime in the next year.