On September 16, British Columbia’s health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry issued a public health order to increase the number of health professionals authorized to help people at risk for overdose to access safer alternatives to the toxic street drug supply, as B.C. works to update prescribing guidance.
The order, issued under the Health Professions Act, authorizes registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses to prescribe pharmaceutical alternatives to street drugs to help separate more people from the poisoned street drug supply, save lives, and provide opportunities for ongoing care, treatment, and support. New nursing standards will be introduced, along with training and education, and access to expert consultation and pathways to connect people to broader addictions and primary care.
The team at Havn Life, a Vancouver-based biotechnology company aimed at improving cognitive health through the development of products derived from psychoactive extracts, supports the expansion of B.C.’s Opioid Substitution Treatment (OST) programs to treat opioid use disorders (OUDs).
Juliana Quadros Mollica, Director of Innovation and Quality Assurance at Havn Life, previously worked as a volunteer Pharmacy Assistant, dispensing Methadone in a community pharmacy in the East Hastings area of Vancouver. She saw firsthand how OST—using Methadone in particular—reduced the frequency use of street drugs or replaced it totally, resulting in fewer deaths by overdose.
“A critical piece in a plan for addressing the opioid epidemic is expanding access of OST by allowing more health care professionals the opportunity to prescribe these medications,” she says.
She says that Methadone also diminishes blood-borne diseases like Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV.
Havn Life believes the authority for pharmacists and all harm reduction workers to administer safe alternatives to opioids would be a massive step in harm reduction.
A staggering increase in overdose deaths were recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic. The illegal drug supply in B.C. is more toxic and unpredictable than ever, with every region of the province impacted. For the first time since 2018, the BC Coroners Service reported over 100 overdose deaths in back-to-back months, from 117 in April to 147 in August. In June 2020, overdoses deaths were the highest ever recorded for one month in B.C.
“The crisis has reached epic proportions with no safe, standardized supply available. I support low barrier access to pharmaceutical grade opiates,” says Susan Chapelle, Co-CEO at Havn Life.
While studying Community Economic Development (CED) at Simon Fraser University, Chapelle explored many of the social enterprises in the East Hastings area working to resolve the opioid crisis with mandates for low-barrier employment and giving back to the community. Her additional background in research and healthcare, along with two terms as a Councillor for the District of Squamish, has given her an understanding of the relationship between land use and economics, how policy changes deeply affect human health, data and healthy community integration, and introducing trauma informed practice.
Mollica says pharmacists also have long-term experience with Opioid Management Therapy. They know how to look for reactions and talk with patients regularly, sometimes twice a day. We especially need pharmacies in remote areas across Canada.
“Pharmacists would need specialized training, but they have enough pharmacology knowledge to safely prescribe drugs and they understand drug interactions better than any other professional,” Mollica says. “Canada is a huge country, so pharmacies and pharmacists can play an even more important role in Opioid Therapy Management by being trained and able to prescribe OST.”
Psychedelics have shown great promise in helping many difficult-to-treat conditions, including addictions. Work being done at premier research institutions that show that the administration of psilocybin plus CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) has the ability to reduce tobacco addiction by 80%, and more clinical evidence is mounting.
Havn Life hopes that as the ban on psychedelic research is lifted following decades since the discovery of psychedelics, they may be a plausible approach to tackling addictions.
Chapelle adds: “Perhaps we are moving towards more evidence and science-informed healthcare for the benefit of humanity.”