Since the new opioid dependency program in Grande prairie opened at the end of May, it has seen 14 patients. It has room for 300 and Alberta Health Services is hoping to increase awareness of what it offers.
“We’ve received a lot of positive feedback from other health professionals and our counterparts across northern Alberta about being able to offer this,” says AHS Site Manager at the Northern Addictions Centre Irene Gladue. “It’s a welcomed addition to the addiction and mental health services we currently offer.”
Director of Addiction and Mental Heath for AHS North Zone West Debra Morrison explains that it’s the first government program in the city to offer replacement therapy. People can start taking Methadone or Suboxone to replace the opiate they’re currently using.
“They are able to live a quality of life and able to get back in the routine of working and feeling productive.”
The outpatient clinic is based out of the Northern Addictions Centre, but it also houses one of only four medical detox units in the province. That means people from out of town can use the beds to detox for 5 to 6 days before being discharged back home.
“Typically it is an outpatient approach, however, because of the geography of northern Alberta, it’s important that we are able to serve people outside of Grande Prairie and area.”
Once out of town, the patients can still connect with physicians through video conferencing.
Before this, Morrison says Fort McMurray had a smaller stabilization program that could handle up to 20 clients, who would detox in Edmonton and then get their ongoing care out of the northern community. She says Grande Prairie’s is now the only “full-fledged” clinic in the north where people can access initiation, stabilization and maintenance.
“We used to have residents of Grande Prairie, over 100 of them, who used to access opioid dependency treatment over in Fort St. John, and knowing our winters and the geographic spread, that’s quite a distance to be travelling to receive this kind of treatment, so we were very excited to be able to open this clinic in Grande Prairie because it’s an essential service.”
The Northern Addictions Centre also offers medical detox, residential treatment, outpatient mental health services and counselling, all done with a harm reduction approach. Morrison says that’s key for AHS staff to build relationships with people in a non-judgmental manner.
“Being able to do that with our clients is very important and this new program really has expanded to a fuller complement that includes a harm reduction approach to the continuum of care for addictions services.”
“If, for example, someone comes in solely for detox services,” adds Gladue, “and they choose opioid replacement therapy on their path to recovery, then they can seamlessly move into that program here.”
Harm reduction is an approach that is meant to reduce the negative effects of addiction on someone’s life, like moving from an opioid to a replacement therapy so the user can be in a better position to have a job and function in society or offering clean needles to reduce the amount of infection.
Doctors can refer patients to the program, or people can self-refer by calling the clinic at 780-538-5210.