May 19, 2009
SAINT JOHN (CNB) - Measures to improve access to methadone treatment were announced today by Health Minister Michael Murphy.
"In the provincial health plan, our government promised to help prevent drug addiction and to provide more help to those who have an addiction," said Murphy. "Today, I am pleased to announce a comprehensive package of measures that will greatly reduce and maybe even eliminate the waiting list for methadone treatment in the Saint John area.
There are 163 clients participating in the methadone treatment program at the Ridgewood Addictions Services Treatment Centre in Saint John, and 93 on the waiting list.
The initiatives were welcomed by Supply and Services Minister Ed Doherty, who took part in the announcement.
"Today, we have unveiled a comprehensive set of initiatives that will address the needs of people who are battling an addiction, and who are looking for our help," said Doherty. "The investments we are making and the commitments being shown by doctors, pharmacists and other health-care providers will go a long way to help people in our community who want to rebuild their lives."
Murphy said that a major challenge in meeting the demand for methadone treatment in the Saint John area has been to recruit enough physicians and pharmacists. Physicians are needed to assess clients, prescribe methadone when deemed appropriate, and to provide ongoing care and monitoring. Physicians must be licensed by Health Canada to prescribe methadone. Pharmacists are needed seven days a week to dispense methadone.
"Currently, there are four physicians working 57 hours per month with the clinical team at Ridgewood," said Murphy. "We are increasing the physician hours at Ridgewood for methadone treatment to 66 hours per month, which will allow more clients to be assessed and prescribed methadone as a treatment for opioid addiction."
Murphy said that a policy change will also improve access to methadone treatment for addictions services clients.
"While we firmly believe that counselling along with methadone remains the best treatment option, we recognize that not all clients are able to commit to the comprehensive program, including mandatory counselling," said Murphy. "As a result, we have removed the requirement that addictions services clients here and elsewhere in the province must take part in mandatory counselling in order to be eligible for methadone treatment."
Murphy announced that the Department of Health will assist Dr. Duncan Webster, an infectious diseases specialist in Saint John, in the provision of health care to opioid-dependent patients. This will include funding for a nurse practitioner and office space for a clinic at the Mercantile Centre in uptown Saint John where Webster will see patients.
Government is also investing in renovations at Ridgewood so that methadone can be dispensed from the centre.
"This work is scheduled to be completed in less than a month, and we anticipate at least 100 clients a day will be able to have methadone dispensed from this location seven days a week," said Murphy. "By dispensing methadone from Ridgewood we will be addressing an ongoing challenge of finding enough pharmacies within the community to dispense methadone. By adding this capacity at Ridgewood, we'll be able to meet the demands of existing clients and take on new clients."
A request for proposals will be issued by Regional Health Authority B soon, requesting pharmacists to submit proposals to dispense methadone on-site at Ridgewood.
Doherty said that the Saint John region is at the forefront of a significant period of economic growth, which will affect the demand for all health services.
"Through the Benefits Blueprint community initiative to plan and prepare for this growth and its impact on the region, we recognized that addictions services and other health services would need to respond to this expected growth," Doherty said. "The investment we are making today supports the Benefits Blueprint recommendations, and is an investment in the continued growth of this region."
MEDIA CONTACT: Meghan Cumby, communications, Department of Health, 506-457-3522.