Injectable drug to treat opioid addiction now fully funded in Alberta

Injectable drug to treat opioid addiction now fully funded in Alberta

by Sue Jones
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On Wednesday, the Alberta government announced it will immediately begin fully funding Sublocade.

Mike Ellis

Mike Ellis, Alberta’s associate minister of mental health and addictions, holds up a box of Sublocade. The injectable drug will now be fully funded by the province for people diagnosed with addictions to opioids. (Pool feed)

An injectable drug that one doctor thinks will revolutionize the way addiction medicine is approached in Alberta is now fully funded by the province.

Sublocade, which is used to treat opioid addiction, is an injectable version of the opioid treatment medication Suboxone. 

“Sublocade is injected and lasts in a person’s system for 30 days, providing stabilization, reducing cravings and significantly enhanced protection against overdose,” Mike Ellis, associate minister of mental health and addictions, said Wednesday.

“This option will save lives and support recovery.” 

The funding news came on the same day that Alberta Health Services (AHS) issued an alert about a marked increase in opioid-related calls for emergency medical assistance in Calgary and Edmonton.

Between Nov. 29 and Dec, 5, there were 140 opioid-related EMS responses in Edmonton and 85 in Calgary.

During the previous month, Edmonton saw between 57 and 112 opioid-related EMS calls per week, while Calgary saw 44 to 58 calls a week.

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Dr. Nathaniel Day, medical director for the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program administered by AHS, says people should realize that fentanyl and carfentanil contaminate most street drugs. 

That’s one reason Day applauds the funding of Sublocade in Alberta.

“This medication is going to revolutionize the way that addiction medicine is approached in Alberta,” Day said.

“If I were worried about my own child who was using opioids, I would want them to get on Sublocade,” he said. “The reason is that the medication’s there. It’s there for a month.

“There can’t be a bad day or a stressful day where they stop using the medication or they bounce back into use.”

To access Sublocade, a person first has to be diagnosed with opioid use disorder, Day said.

Once they’re given the drug in oral form to make sure they can tolerate it, a prescription for an injection can be written. Injections will be offered at clinics and participating pharmacies.

Lori Sigurdson, mental health and addictions critic for the Opposition NDP, said she hopes making Sublocade more available saves lives.

“But this announcement does not take away the need for the UCP to immediately implement more harm reduction services,” Sigurdson said Wednesday. 

Ellis also announced additional funding of $1.4 million in funding to the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program. He said the program’s existence makes Alberta the first jurisdiction in Canada to achieve opioid treatment “on demand.”

Total government funding for the program is now $6.4 million annually.

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