Nelson’s methadone crisis averted

Three doctors are seeing methadone patients in Nelson, up from one a few months ago.

Dr. Joel Kaila (second from left) with his team

Dr. Joel Kailia is feeling less stressed out these days. His overwhelming load of 300 methadone patients has gone down to about 175 over the past couple of months.

That’s because the Interior Health Authority has provided space in its mental health office in Nelson for two other doctors to see methadone patients. Kailia has been referring to them the people he thinks have the more complicated mental health issues.

And he has moved his clinic from the hospital annex to ANKORS, open on Fridays. The health authority pays for the space and for an outreach worker, Alex Sherstobitoff. Kailia also employs a physician assistant, a social worker, and a medical assistant, all out of his own pocket.

On Wednesdays the social worker runs a drop-in addictions support group at ANKORS.

“This is much improved,” Kailia told the Star. “I feel I have control over my life now. Interior Health has risen to the challenge of the fentanyl crisis.”

Methadone is an opioid placement provided to addicts to counteract addiction to fentanyl, heroin, and other opiates. In May the provincial health minister declared fentanyl overdose deaths to be a public health emergency in BC.

Another time-saver for Kailia is that the health authority has made overdose kits (Naloxone) available at pharmacies without a prescription, and free for marginalized people through his ANKORS clinic.

The health authority does not employ Kailia or the two doctors seeing methadone patients at the mental health centre. They operate on the same fee-for-service basis as any family doctor. Kailia also runs his own family practice in Nelson, specializing in pain management.

Dr. Mike Vance is one of the two other doctors taking on methadone patients one day a week at the mental health office. He is seeing about 40 patients.

After they are stabilized at the mental health location, he refers many of his patients to his family practice.

Vance says he’s always been interested in addictions.

“I had a lot of addiction stuff in my family history and I have had special training in it. When I was in residency, the clinic I worked at did methadone treatment.”

Vance says he sees two types of addicts.

“There are the older ones with mental health issues. People were not too worried about them, but then all these young people started dying from fentanyl.

“There are addicts who own businesses, they are great parents, they are professionals, but they have the same addiction issues. They come from all walks of our community. The ones you see downtown on the street, they are not the majority of the patients we see.”

Vance says having the methadone clinic in the mental health office has had an unforeseen benefit.

“There are some people on the street who we never thought would get hooked up with the mental health team. But since they are coming in to get their methadone, they are connecting with them, so the team and nurses at mental health are pretty happy we are working out of there.”

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