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Interior Health expands nurse prescriber program to tackle ‘toxic drug crisis’

IH nurse prescribers have written more than 450 prescriptions for Suboxone in past year
Crystal Head, of Vernon, was Interior Health’s first nurse prescriber. (Photo submitted)

Interior Health continues to expand its nurse prescriber team across B.C. in an effort to tackle “the toxic drug crisis from every angle.”

In the past year, the team has grown to include 16 nurses in 11 communities - 100 Mile House, Castlegar, Cranbrook, the Elk Valley, Nelson, Penticton, Lillooet, Revelstoke, Trail, Kelowna and Vernon.

The program was started in early 2021 to increase access to medication-assisted treatment and safer alternatives to the toxic illicit drug supply, according to IH.

Since then, IH nurse prescribers have written more than 450 prescriptions for Suboxone, an important opioid agonist treatment (OAT) medication to support people with opioid use disorders.

“We are tackling the toxic drug crisis from every angle. British Columbia is the first province in Canada to let nurses prescribe medication-assisted treatment for opioid-use disorder,” Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, said in the release. ”Expansion of nurse prescribing in the Interior is an important part of building the system of substance use care people need.”

Interior Health president and CEO, Susan Brown, said it’s important to have nurse prescriber services, particularly in rural areas “where it can be more difficult to see clients outside of clinic hours and respond to urgent client needs.”

Interior Health noted registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses were initially trained to prescribe Suboxone. IH and other health authorities then worked together with the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU), BC College of Nurses and Midwives and the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions to implement, monitor and expand the scope in treating opioid use disorder.

In November 2021, the BCCSU made provincial training available for nurses to prescribe the titration, bridging and continuation of slow-release oral morphine (SROM) and Methadone.

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