PEI to offer no-cost substance use treatment medications

Six substance use treatment medications for opiate and alcohol dependency will be available at no cost to Prince Edward Island residents as of June 1.

But some advocates and people working with those facing substance dependencies say a more wholesome approach is needed.

Islanders who are receiving treatment for the management of opiate dependency will be able to receive prescriptions of Methadone, Suboxone, Probuphine and Sublocade at no cost. The same goes for Acamprosate and Naltrexone, two medications that manage alcohol dependency.

“I think that it’s an awesome step that the province has taken to help people that are struggling with addiction and mental health issues,” said mental health and addictions advocate Ellen Taylor.

“Usually these people are having some kind of financial difficulties as well, and I think to take that barrier away is going to be really good to help the people who are struggling.”

Unique in all of Canada

The no-cost substance use treatment medication program was announced in August 2021 as part of the Canada-PEI Improving Affordable Access to Prescriptions Drugs initiative. The province will receive $35 million in federal funding over four years to add new drugs to its list of those already covered, as well as reduce the out-of-pocket costs for drugs covered under public plans.

PEI’s Health Minister Ernie Hudson says the program is unique in all of Canada, and he thinks it makes PEI a leader “across the board… with regards to medications compared to other jurisdictions.”

Especially, he said, in terms of alcohol dependency.

Naltrexone is a medication that is used in treating alcohol use disorder. (Rudy Gauer/CBC)

“One of the things I certainly want to emphasize is that it’s available for opiate replacement and alcohol tip-to-tip for all Islanders, and the alcohol component of it is completely new,” said Hudson.

Taylor said she thinks a lot of people think of hard drugs when they think about addiction.

“People kind of forget that we have such an alcohol problem here … there are so many Islanders affected by alcoholism,” she said. “I think that this will be really good news for them and for their families because it’s finally something recognizing that.”

‘More than one level to it’

While advocates say removing the financial barrier of these medications will be beneficial to those facing addictions, they are asking the government to consider more wholesome approaches to treatment.

“I definitely would say that publicly-funded access to treatment is a step in the right direction, but it definitely needs to exist on a continuum of care which we don’t currently have,” said Tessa Rogers, a street outreach worker for PEERS Alliance.

“The options right now are abstinence based and that’s not where everybody is at or where they want to be,” she said. “While funding and providing that funding removes a little bit of that barrier, there’s still a lot of obstacles to overcome.”

Advocates say they hear regularly from people facing wait-lists and eventually relapsing because they can’t access care.

The Sober and Friendly Environment (SAFE) in Charlottetown offers a place for people to get together without the temptation of drugs or alcohol. (SAFE)

Sister Laura Kelly is the coordinator at Sober and Friendly Environment (SAFE) in Charlottetown, a center for people to congregate without the temptation of drugs or alcohol.

She said she thinks access to counseling for mental health and affordable housing is key in tackling addictions.

“Addiction is not a one shot deal,” Kelly said. “In all reality, we need multiple layers of assistance … Let’s help them find a place to stay, let’s help them deal with the issues that created the addiction or helped make it worse. Everything’s got more than one level to it.”

Hudson said the province is working on improving access to services, including things like the mobile response unit and establishing a short-stay unit for mental health services at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

“You always have to look at where additional improvements can be made,” Hudson said.

He said the province has put aside money in the budget for a safe injection site.

“We’re in the process of moving forward on that,” he said. “There were funds in the operating budget for that initiative and I can’t give an exact timeline on that but it is being expedited.”


With files from Laura Meader.

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