Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Drug Users Say Methadone Formula Switch Contributed to B.C.'S Opioid Crisis

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Drug Users Say Methadone Formula Switch Contributed to B.C.'S Opioid Crisis

Article excerpt

Drug switch contributed to opioid crisis: users

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VANCOUVER - Drug users trying to quit heroin are gathered for a meeting in Vancouver with one mission in mind: to support each other through the struggles of a reformulated treatment drug they say hasn't worked and has instead contributed to the opioid epidemic.

Brad Williamson, 34, sits on a couch with other members of the B.C. Association of People on Methadone as they discuss how a "forced" switch to Methadose drove many to relapse on heroin.

He says the new formula was 10 times stronger but didn't last as long before withdrawal symptoms kicked in and left him "dope sick."

Williamson says he became hooked on heroin after suffering chronic leg and knee pain from 15 years as a flooring installer but entered a methadone treatment program from 2011 to 2013 before returning to using the opioid.

When he restarted treatment in 2014, British Columbia no longer offered the drug that a pharmacist would mix daily for patients from its powdered form into a sweet orange drink. A new cherry-flavoured liquid replacement called Methadose wasn't as effective, Williamson says.

"Before, even if I missed a day or even two or three days on the old methadone, I would be fine but now if I miss one day I am in full-on withdrawal," he says. "On the old stuff, I was able to work and pay my rent. On the new stuff I feel like a slug and I can't keep a job."

Laura Shaver, who heads the association, says the impact of the change can no longer be ignored as health officials expect up to 1,500 people could fatally overdose in the province by the end of the year, based on 780 deaths between January and June.

Shaver, 39, said on methadone, her withdrawal symptoms were kept at bay for about 24 hours, but returned in 16 hours on Methadose.

"It was awful. It disrupted my whole life again," says Shaver, who relapsed onto heroin and was angry that methadone users hadn't adequately been consulted before the change that was so dramatic.

"It doesn't make sense, and all I know is it ruined a lot of lives and it still is, and it's also when I think the major start of the fentanyl crisis was because it was when all these people who weren't using had to go out and self-medicate again."

Ryan McNeil, a researcher at the B.C. Centre on Substance Use, says some Methadose users reported withdrawal symptoms in as early as 14 hours, putting them at risk of seeking illicit opioids.

He says evidence from the centre's research involving people who access Vancouver's overdose prevention sites suggests the switch to Methadose had "huge implications."

"It's an important thing to consider how the methadone formulation change functioned to impact people in the long-term in relation to their methadone treatment and subsequently has been one of the contributing factors to people overdosing from fentanyl or fentanyl-adulterated drugs," he says. …

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