Wed. Aug 10th, 2022

A unique program that provides opioid users with a secure supply of pharmaceutical grade drugs and a place to live, shows promising results along with some additional benefits.

A study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy in August outlines several positive results among the first group of participants enrolled in the Managed Opioid Program (MOP), run by Ottawa Inner City Health, during the first year after launch. in August 2017.

After one year, more than three-quarters of the program’s 26 participants remained in treatment, while nearly half had stopped using over-the-counter opioids and nearly 60 percent never had an overdose.

Researchers also measured other “wellness results” derived from the program. What they found was also encouraging. About three-quarters of the people who go through MOP reconnected with alienated family members and about a third started working or were enrolled in a vocational education.

“When we first bring them into the program, we ask ‘What are you hoping to achieve?'” Said Amanda LaBelle, a nursing coordinator with Ottawa Inner City Health who works directly with people enrolled in MOP.

“Success in the program is a bit fluid. It’s not always up. It’s not always down, but … it’s really rewarding when you see people doing well.”

Programs housing, secure drug supply

The Ottawa Drug Treatment Program differs from most others in Canada in that it pairs a secure supply of medication with a private room in a shared living environment.

Participants must experience homelessness and still use non-prescription opioids, such as heroin or fentanyl. The program is specifically tailored for people who have failed other types of drug treatment programs, some using methadone or suboxone.

“This group of people, there is nothing that can bring them from the instability and chaos other than a program like this,” said Dr. Jeff Turnbull, Medical Director of Ottawa Inner City Health.

When they enter the program, they are given a controlled supply of pharmaceutical grade opioids, known as hydromorphone or Dilaudid.

The program administers hydromorphone, a type of injectable opioid, to the participants along with getting them to live in residential areas. (Ashley Burke / CBC)

Turnbull said the program’s ultimate priority is security because it welcomes some of the city’s most vulnerable people. Part of this security includes the supply of a non-toxic drug supply, as opposed to what they would otherwise buy on the street, which could be laced with deadly drugs like fentanyl.

The results lived up to expectations

The results of the program are consistent with similar studies conducted in British Columbia and “decades of research” conducted in Europe, said Miriam Harris, professor of medicine at Boston University and lead author of the study.

“Overall, it’s very promising, and I really wish … I had this tool for many of my patients who are on methadone and suboxon,” she said.

However, Harris warned against exaggerating the results as the study was based on a small sample size and participants were all hand-picked by Ottawa Inner City Health staff.

But LaBelle said positive results like those seen in the program’s first cohort are what make her job worthwhile.

“As much as this job can be very stressful and anxious at times, when you have these little victories, I try to keep them at the forefront of my mind,” she said. “I know it helps people tremendously.”

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