HALIFAX: St. Martha’s Regional Hospital is among the health care facilities which will receive funding under a new provincial opioid treatment program

The province announced it will invest $800,000 this year to create 470 new spots in the program. The government hopes this will not only eliminate the current waitlist, but also add 250 more spaces in communities across the province. Currently, Nova Scotians can access publicly funded treatment at 12 sites across the province.

To meet growing demand, the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) will expand capacity at existing locations and open a new location in Antigonish during the next six months.

“Antigonish will offer 25 spaces and [the] support of a full-time registered nurse, all housed in the existing Mental Health and Addictions location at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital,” said Kristen Lipscombe with the NSHA.

As for other sites in the Strait area, such as Strait-Richmond Hospital and Inverness Consolidated Memorial Hospital, Lipscombe said the province will continue to monitor the need in those communities.

“We have funded expansions where there has been an identified need,” Lipscombe noted. “There are no immediate plans to expand services elsewhere. People from areas such as Inverness are able to access existing opioid recovery programs and receive treatment in their home communities through community retail pharmacies. We are building capacity with First Nations communities that have identified a need.”

According to the province, all programs offer evidence-based opioid therapies, methadone and buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone), along with counselling and other supports.

“Demand for treatment continues to grow, and we have an important role to play in the response by making treatment options more broadly available,” said Dr. Sam Hickcox, family physician and addictions specialist for NSHA. “This will allow us to help more people and families who are experiencing harm due to opioid use.”

The government is also investing $70,000 this year to build a support network of addictions medicine specialists to provide telephone-based consultation to primary care providers throughout the province. The specialists will be available to physicians, nurse practitioners and other providers to consult on opioid use disorder treatment and prescribing. This will allow more Nova Scotians in rural and remote areas to access treatment in their communities.

Government is investing about $10,000 this year to support NSHA as it begins development of specialized training for emergency department staff. This will help staff recognize the signs of opioid use disorder and to initiate care where appropriate.

The investments are part of government’s Opioid Use and Overdose Framework, released this summer.

“Opioid use is a growing concern across the country – one that affects families and communities throughout our province,” said Randy Delorey, Minister of Health and Wellness. “Every Nova Scotian deserves a chance to thrive in our province. By making treatment available to more people in more communities, we are not just preventing overdoses, but also giving people the support they need to live well.”

To access treatment through NSHA Mental Health and Addictions, visit: http://www.nshealth.ca/mental-health-and-addictions-intake-phone-numbers. For more information about the province’s work to address opioid use and overdose, visit: https://novascotia.ca/opioid.