Registered nurses in B.C. will soon be able to prescribe alternate medication to people struggling with opioid use disorder.
The program, which the addictions ministry described as the first of its kind, will start with a group of 30 registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses. In a Monday (Feb. 9) press release, the ministry said the nurses would be able to prescribe, buprenorphine/naloxone (commonly known as Suboxone), a first-line opioid agonist treatment medication. About 23,00 in B.C. are currently receiving some form of this treatment.
“We are coming up on five years since British Columbia declared overdose a public health emergency, and more than 6,000 people have died because of toxic street drugs since that time,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. “The COVID-19 pandemic has put people who use drugs at much higher risk for overdose.
Monday’s news comes five months after Henry first issued an order allowing some nurses to prescribe opioid alternatives to people struggling with substance use.
The ministry said that the first group of registered nurses would be followed by more, and that expanding who can prescribe opioid agonist treatment medication would be especially important to rural and underserved communities.
Qualifications for these nurses includes training developed by the BC Centre on Substance Use, including in-person mentoring with experienced prescribers. There have also been regulatory requirements established for registered nurses to diagnose, order, refer and prescribe these drugs with the BC College of Nurses and Midwives.
While figures for the entirety of 2020 had yet to be released on Monday morning, 1,548 people died of illicit drug overdoses in the first 11 months of the year – a sharp increase from 2019, when a total 984 people died throughout the whole year.
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