News / Edmonton

Alberta sees dramatic rise in methadone use and costs

Methadone use in the province has more than doubled over the last two years, which health officials say is an encouraging sign for people hoping to deal with addictions.

Dr. Michael Trew, the province’s chief medical officer of health for addictions and mental health, said while it might seem startling at first, it’s a clear sign people are working to deal with substance abuse.

“To me it’s reassuring that we have increased the availability of that treatment,” he said. “People are trying to do what they can to make this practical for people who live with this.”

According to figures from Alberta Health, in the 2012 / 2013 fiscal year the province spent just over $3.2 million on methadone including pharmacy costs and the drug itself. That number rose to $8.8 million in the last fiscal year.

While there were slight cost increases, the majority of the increase is coming from more users, with 5,432 people taking the treatment last year compared to 2,128 in the 2012 – 2013 fiscal year.

The drug acts as a replacement therapy, easing addicts off heroin and other opioids.

Last week, the province started to roll out grant payments to needle exchange agencies to provide a naloxone program. Naloxone is a drug that can stop an opioid overdose and the province provided funding following a troubling spike in fentanyl-related deaths.

Trew said it’s important for the province to work both on emergency measures like that and longer term steps to get people off of their addictions.

“The safety business is really at one end of the spectrum and then it is really a question of trying to help people get into effective treatment,” he said.

Trew said the province is working with AHS and the college of physicians hoping to see more doctors prescribing the drug for patients in need.

“We need to continue for ways to look at how we can continue to make this work,” he said.

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